As a girl growing up in North Korea, Yeonmi Park didn’t know that the type of freedom that is found in the United States existed. Now a human rights activist and a student studying at Columbia University in New York, Park is realizing that the rest of the world didn’t know about a world like the one she lived in, either, according to Park who spoke Wednesday evening in Sherman Function Hall.
Park was a part of a family that was considered wealthy by North Korean standards, but they still struggled to find enough food to survive, according to Park. She said that when she escaped as a teenager, she was 50-60 pounds. She said she didn’t know how a phone or the Internet worked and she didn’t have a map, so she followed the electricity and light coming from China. Her sister escaped first, and Park and her mother escaped after, she said. Park said that people now ask her why North Koreans don’t revolt if there are 25 million people living there. She said that the people that live in North Korea don’t realize that their life isn’t normal.
“If you don’t know you’re a slave, if you don’t know you’re oppressed, how do you fight?” said Park. “And that is the fundamental difference between North Korea and the rest of the world. Most North Koreans don’t know a world like this exists.”
Park said that the best way to help and to make a difference is to inform yourself and inform others. When she tells people from other Asian countries that she’s from North Korea, they are surprised that she looks and acts just like them because there is a bias against people from North Korea. She also said that when she came to the United States, she was surprised by people not really thinking about the implications of her being from North Korea. According to Park, people either don’t know about the oppression in North Korea or they don’t think that there is anything that they can do. She said that Trump has been too complimentary to Kim Jong-Un and that Barack Obama wasn’t critical enough.
“If we allow and tolerate as a humanity… this kind of terror to [happen to] other humans, I just have to wonder, if no one is free, who will speak for us,” said Park. “It is our duty as a free people to speak for people who don’t have a voice.”
There are 300,000 North Korean defector women in China, and most of them are trafficked due to the one-child policy, according to Park. She said that she was sold for less than $300 and her mom was sold for around $100.
“Liberty, freedom, is the only thing that allows us to fight for all these causes that we care about.”
A key factor that the Trafficking in Persons Report attributes to fueling to China’s trafficking industry is the country’s population control program which limits most couples within China, the One Child Policy, according to the Lozier Institute. The report estimates that for every 118 boys born, there are only 100 girls, but demographers say that the ratio can be as high as 150 boys for every 100 girls in some areas.
Speaking out has earned her censure in her North Korea, according to NBC News. Park said that while she couldn’t have survived in North Korea, she hopes to return one day to see her friends and family.