"My soul was watered as I reconnected with my relatives and explored Korea's history. I feel like a broken twig engrafted back to its tree."
REUNITED WITH A RISEN KOREA
I was born in 1972 in South Korea. My family immigrated to Canada when I was five years old. Like many Korean families that came to Canada around that time, my parents left our motherland to find peace and give their children a better future. But establishing life in a foreign country came with many hardships. As I was growing up, my parents sacrificed a lot to put food on the table. We experienced racism. I struggled to meet my parents’ Korean expectations while also trying to adapt to Canadian culture. Growing up, I felt a void having only a few relatives in Canada. I compensated for this lack by seeing the Koreans in my community as my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. However, throughout this recent visit, my soul was watered as I reconnected with my relatives and explored Korea’s history. I feel like a broken twig engrafted back to its tree.
When our family left our motherland in 1977, I remember Korea being under-developed. On my first visit back to Korea in 1997, I witnessed a lot of transition and construction. Then on August 14, 2022, I flew back a second time to Korea to attend the 8th Global Korean Politicians Forum in Seoul. From the moment I arrived at Incheon International Airport and throughout my trip, I was awestruck by the beautiful architecture and infrastructure, clean streets and public spaces, and the hospitality of the Korean people. The oil of blessing flows down the green mountain forests and into the well-cultivated farmlands. As a diaspora who had left the motherland during a time of South Korea’s growing pains, I had remembered Korea as an orphan struggling to rise up from the ashes of war and conflict. But Korea now shines with the radiance of gold refined by fire. As an elder would tell a child who'd grown up to become a 훌륭한 사람 (hul-yung-han sah-rum) or great person, Korea has risen to become a 훌륭한 나라 (hul-yung-han nah-rah), a great nation. It's one thing to read about Korea's success but witnessing it in person brings me great joy as a descendent of Korea.
[Photo: Panoramic view of Seoul from Namsan]
A GATHERING OF DIASPORA POLITICIANS
Global Korean Politicians Forum, Seoul
August 16 to 19, 2022
"You must have worked incredibly hard and overcome a lot of challenges to have been elected as a Korean in a foreign land because it's tough enough to win an election as a Korean living in Korea." These were the typical words of Korean nationals, relatives and strangers, regarding my term as the first Korean born Member of Parliament in Canada.
While Canada is my home and I've been a Canadian Citizen most of my life, yes, I had overcome a lot of adversity before sitting in the House of Commons. The other diaspora Korean politicians I met at the Global Korean Politicians Forum also faced incredible challenges for their elections in their respective countries and many are the first Korean politicians in their nation, state, province, county, and city. Perhaps that was one reason why we set aside our partisanship and bonded so quickly with one another. Regardless, the bond of our common ancestry was powerful.
The delegation of Koreans in the Canadian political community including Senator Yonah Martin (first appointed Korean Canadian Senator and current Chair of Overseas Korean Politicians Council) and Sandy Lee (first elected Korean Canadian Member of the Legislative Assembly and Cabinet Minister). Other countries represented in person included Argentina, Australia, Chile, Great Britain, Germany, Kazakhstan, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States of America. During the four days, August 16 to 19, we learned a lot from each other and also met Korean dignitaries from the National Assembly.
[Photo: Global Korean Politicians Forum Participants with Members of National Assembly, Seoul]
Thanks to American School Board Trustee, Jin Lee, a small delegation of global Korean politicians had an opportunity to meet with some Councillors from the Seoul Metropolitan Council at the end of the forum. I engaged in a discussion about how immigrants can be better prepared for success in Canada and how the Korean Canadian community can better support new immigrant entrepreneurs from South Korea to protect and assist them. As I imagine this might be the case with other Canadian ethnic communities, a number of Koreans who immigrate to Canada to start a business become disillusioned and return to the motherland after encountering fraud, racism, and barriers that would be overwhelming to any business owner but is amplified through cultural barriers.
[Photo: Global Korean Politicians Delegation with Seoul Councillors]
On August 17, I was privileged to join Melissa Lee (first Korean Member of New Zealand’s Parliament), Ye One Rhie (Member of Germany’s Parliament), and Cindy Ryu (first Korean American Mayor and first woman elected into Washington State House of Representatives) as a panelist on the Roles of Global Korean Politicians for Peace and Prosperity Amid International Conflicts. I spoke on the Pathway to Peace and Restoration with a call for global Korean politicians to the role of peacemaker and leading the charge to cultivate a culture of honour and people-centred servant leadership in the political sphere.
Here are some statements from my speech:
"There’s a theft of destiny where oppression takes place, for both the oppressed and the oppressor".
"Freedom is significant for peace to flow and where peace flows, the ground is fertile for prosperity."
"You can fool the people with platitudes and tokenism but you can’t cheat peace.
Peace will not flow unless there are genuine and mutual efforts for resolution and reconciliation.
There’s only true peace or an illusion of peace."
[Edited versions of my presentation are available on YouTube below.]