▶ 삼일 운동 백주년 기념 경운 장학회 주최 제9회 영어 웅변대회 수상작- Finalist
A couple of years ago, my family went on a trip to Shanghai. My itinerary for the trip consisted mainly of shopping malls, cute cafes and fancy restaurants, with some historical landmarks sprinkled in to please my parents who seemed more focused on the idea of “experiencing the culture”.
On one of these days, my parents dragged my sister and me to a small, unsuspecting building.
What could have possibly taken place here that held any of the “cultural richness” my parents had been after the entire trip?
We stepped inside and I soon learned that the building was the home of the Imshijungbu, or the Provisional Korean government that was active during the Japanese occupation.
This didn’t mean much to me then. But when I started doing research for this contest, I realized that I had been somewhere truly special.
The March 1st Movement was the first of many civil demonstrations held by the Korean people to oppose Japanese rule. Around 2 million people in total played a role in the movement. Everyone, no matter their class, gender, age, or job participated. All the protesting gave way to the birth of the Imshijungbu on April 11, 1919, which formed its own constitution and led us to our independence.
This ultimately led me to realize that Samilundong was more than the movement that sowed the seeds for our eventual independence. It was a testament to fighting injustice by banding together and calling for the end of oppression with one collective voice.
That spirit is reflected in the way every Korean came together in the face of struggle. No matter who you were, you were in the streets, singing together. Shouting together. Alone, you might not have amassed enough power to scare the Japanese government into violently repressing the movement. Alone, you might not have had the bravery to fight that violence with peaceful protest.
Sometimes, I look around and wonder to myself where that spirit lives on in the Korean-American community. How can the lessons of Samilundong apply to the societal issues we face in America today?
Because sometimes, we don’t care about something unless it affects us.
Maybe the reason we turn away from the struggle of others is because Samilundong happened in the past. And it’s always easier to look and ponder things in retrospect than to see the gravity of the wrongs happening right now. But the spirit of Samilundong isn’t something that can be restricted to the past. That’s because it is a reflection of the human spirit. It’s ingrained in our past, relevant in the present and vital to our future.
This is why we have to turn our attention to America.
As a Korean-American student, I see divisiveness pervade the way we talk about affirmative action and the students of color who benefit from it. I see so much negativity surrounding the discussions had about black students who get into prestigious colleges. How this impacts the way we speak about black people in general.
I wondered why we were trying to separate ourselves from the people who had experienced discrimination, not the same, but similar to ours.
The model minority stereotype was the answer to my question. This stereotype showed up in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement as an indirect way for white people to quell the rising tide of the Movement. Our financial and social success was compared to that of black citizens on account of us both being minorities. Why were we doing better than black people? Why couldn’t black people pull themselves up by the bootstraps as we had? But our success had little to do with us working hard and becoming educated and more to do with the better treatment we received so we could be groomed into something that could be used as a model to denigrate black people for not being able to reach the same level of success. We appealed to the people in power, and we were used as tools to further anti-black sentiment in America.
We benefited from that racism. And we stayed quiet.
But in spite of all our silence and obedience, the culture we had tried so hard to make ourselves a part of, held us at arm’s length.
It is strange to see people who are so proud of their ancestors using their voices not standing up and using theirs.
It is strange to see the divide between us, especially when black people struggled in the Civil rights movement for racial equality in a vein similar to the March 1st Movement.
We cannot deny to help and stay silent when we see injustice and then turn right around and expect others to help us.
And help is needed desperately today. We saw white supremacists openly celebrate during Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally. We watched as policemen killed 1,147 people in 2017, 25% of whom were black. We experience increased crime as the Asian community.
Sometimes, I read this news and feel insignificant. Like I cannot make an impact on the world around me.
But then I remember the small, dingy building, that didn’t seem like much to the naked eye but housed something much greater than the sum of its parts. I remember people that saw injustice and stood against it, even if it meant sacrificing themselves. I remember all the individuals that came together despite everything that made them different.
I remember that there are still problems we face today, but that we can overcome those problems, should we choose to use our voices to unite with other people of color in America.
To me, Samilundong is great not only because of what it accomplished but also because it showed what could be.
<Emily Gil 11th Grade Bergen County Technical School