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When The River Roars: 70 Years Of Confusion

Above Photo: Korea Peace Now.

I am traveling to DC with my fellow Korean Americans next week to call President Biden and Congress to officially end the Korean war.

This year is incredibly important to me and the Korean people. Next Wednesday, July 27th is the 70th anniversary of the armistice of Korean War, the longest war in American history. I turn 34 this year, almost half of that number. And my grandmother, who left a memoir that I finally found in 2015, was aged 70 years when she published these words, translated by me:

I only understood what that war was, felt it against my flesh only after I came down from the mountains. Nobody was whole after the war. It spared no one. People either lost their lives, lost their families, lost their legs or arms, or were irrevocably scarred in their hearts. People who survived the war were like people who had already lost their lives once and came back from the dead.

To live this borrowed life, we all did all kinds of things to try to survive. And we agreed on one truth: the war must never, ever, ever happen again.

Ever since I can remember, I was putting puzzle pieces together to understand my family. There was so much love, scattered with episodes of emotional overwhelm and pain that felt like explosions in the sky. A very sensitive and empathic child growing up in southern Korea, I was very attuned to the pains and emotions of my family. My grandmother was my mother figure. I spent more time with her than I did with my own parents. A brave 19-year-old girl who climbed the mountains to find her father and brothers, she lost all of her toes and half of her feet to frostbite then gangrene. And she never found her family. I learned through her memoir that she heard that her father and brothers had passed away from illnesses, which I learned were acquired from the biowarfare that was waged on southern Korean soil.

The Korean peninsula is a beautiful place. Mt. Mudeung and the rich, homey dialect of South Jeolla province—this is where I am from. We are the backbone of Korean culture, arts, and cuisine. The civilian uprising in my hometown Gwangju led to the inception of Korean democracy. However, right now South Korea is more like an island. It is unnaturally divorced from the northern half, where the Korean civilization started. Growing up during the Sunshine Policy era in the ‘90s, I saw the very first family reunifications on TV and thought our national reunification was near. I asked if we had family in the north; no one answered. After decades of searching, I found that I might have biological relatives up north, but I am unable to ascertain that due to travel restrictions put in place since 2017. The pandemonium of war, ideological divide, and confusion stemming from 35 years of Japanese occupation followed immediately by the Korean War are my people’s open wounds. Healing and closure are impossible until this war ends in peace.

I felt called to get involved with Korea Peace Now and Women Cross DMZ, and I am traveling to DC with my fellow Korean Americans next week to call President Biden and Congress to officially end the Korean war. We advocate for peace talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as North Korea. Doing peace work is an evolution of my grief for my ancestors whose lives were utterly destroyed by the war. Grief is an expression of my love, and that love never goes away.

In my day job, I work in public engagement to foster dialogues on the ethical, legal, social implications of genetic technologies, a topic that is polarizing in this age we live in. What I can tell you is that engagement is a BRAVE act. Engagement with an entity whose ideology doesn’t align with yours, after a long void of connecting, is an incredibly BRAVE act. And should United States desire to continue as the leader of the world, they can set an example. The first step should come from US, currently the most powerful and militarized nation in the world.

We have historically antagonized DPRK with failed hawkish policy for decades. To show what the Korean American constituents desire, we meet with lawmakers to discuss The Peace on Korean Peninsula Act. We must be able to initiate peace talks in good faith and follow through with accountability. For the first time in over 40 years, US sent nuclear submarines to South Korea that docked this week. Tensions run high, putting millions of lives in the peninsula and stateside in danger of nuclear war. Reconciliation is impossible without dialogue, and someone must muster up the courage to take that first step forward.

Who gets to heal and who is not afforded that chance is incredibly political. We are the descendants of those who became refugees of our own land. We are the living, breathing testimonies of what happened to our people, soil, and water. Mobilizing in DC with other Koreans is my act of love, resistance, and celebration of our incredible fortitude.

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