MEET THE MIXED MODEL FIGHTING RACISM IN SOUTH KOREA
At just 16 years old, Han Hyun-Min has walked more runways and withstood more adversity than most people his age. The 6-foot-2 Korean-born, Nigerian-mixed model made his debut into the modeling scene only a year ago. Since then, Hyun-Min has quickly risen to the top of Korea’s catwalks, while making major headlines throughout the country for his racially ambiguous look—though it hasn’t all been positive feedback. Despite being asked to open his very first show by designer Sanghyuk Han for Heich es Heich, the young model humbly admitted to Vogue that: “If it wasn’t for him that season, I don’t think I would’ve been able to debut.” Hyun-Min continues to acknowledge the hindrance he endures within the Korean fashion industry confessing:
“Because my skin is different, some designers and brands won’t really use me… But rather than leaving, I want to work harder—being Han Hyun Min and building my own unique charm is important to me.”
Clearly not one to accept defeat, the model has not only refused to tolerate prejudice from obstructing his career goals, but he has also defied them, paving a way for himself and other natives of color in Korea’s fashion world. At shows, many are quick to judge that Hyun-Min is one of the many international models flown out for fashion week, but he hails directly from Itaewon, the trendy neighborhood that’s picking up steam as one of Seoul’s coolest spots. With that said, prior to its developing reputation as a Korean flagship of cool, the district was known as an immigrant neighborhood filled with foreigners and international cuisines, but also as a shady part of town that one wouldn’t want to walk through at night. Does that sound familiar? Perhaps similar to the gentrified metamorphosis of New York’s own Brooklyn?
While, sure, the diversity of our cultural identity as a nation faces major risk under the current administration, many parts of our country still bask in its heterogeneity. The same can’t be said of Korea, which has maintained an extremely homogeneous and nationalist ethos outside of the Itaewon area. Hyun-Min recalled to Vogue of particular incidents claiming, “They would say bad things about me. If I was with a friend, their mom would come and say don’t play with that kid.”
While the model has consistently looked to his ethnically diverse, native neighborhood of Itaewon as a haven from the general nation’s discrimination, it’s worth noting that perhaps its recent surge in popularity has been attributed to the city’s shifting perspective on race from old and conservative to young and open—one can hope? With a little more perseverance and a lot more change, his dreams of overcoming the inherent racism that plagues Korea can come to fruition; with the same ingredients, hopefully our dreams of having a sensible human being to run our country can be fulfilled too.
Images via Vogue
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