Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Journey Home: Visiting North Korea by Kei Fischer

This past summer, two Eclipse Rising members ventured into the unfamiliar territory of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea as it is more popularly referred to. One member, Kei Fischer, wrote a reflection on the trip and it has been posted on the Nodutol website. Nodutol is a group that organizes the annual visit to North and South Korea. For more information about Nodutol, please visit:

For the website of the article, visit:

A Journey Home - Visiting North Korea
by Kei Fischer

My mother’s ethnic heritage is relatively unheard of in the United States. She is ethnically Korea, but was born in and grew up in Japan. Her mother came to Japan when she was 10 years old with her mother from Wonson, a port city in the northern region of Korea, so that they could find a new life. Her father came from Cheju island, off the southern coast of Korea, also in search of a job, when he was only 17. When they came to Japan, they came as Japanese nationals, because Japan had occupied Korea. Many Koreans were also forced to come as laborers in Japan. In 1945 when the occupation ended, the over 600,000 Koreans that stayed in Japan became zainichi: permanent resident aliens without a country. Upon Korea’s division, most took on South Korean nationality, but some, like my grandmother, refused to declare sides.

My mother grew up in post-war Japan, not speaking any Korean, because her father was afraid she would be discriminated against. Therefore, my mother has always carried an alienated sense of identity, both literally and metaphorically, not feeling Korean or Japanese enough most of her life. That sense was passed down to my sister and me: both of us being biracial zainichis with US citizenship. With our mother’s family residing over 5,000 miles away and our own mother not knowing much about our Korean heritage, I was left to learning about Korean culture and language through library books and college courses. However, you can only learn so much through books. My desire to visit North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was personal: I wanted to find a connection to the land and the heritage that I stood to lose if I did not take the initiative to visit. I wanted to see the home of my grandmother, meet the people who might share a similar laugh, and eat the food my ancestors grew up on.

I visited North Korea in July of 2008 as part of a delegation called DEEP (DPRK Exposure and Education Program). To prepare for our trip, we met biweekly to read up on Korean history and be exposed to an alternative perspective of North Korea. I began to view North Korea in a different light. I read about guerillas in the north fighting for independence from Japan—fighters who, after World War II, prevented North Korea from being dominated by U.S. capitalism. Instead, North Korean revolutionary socialist ideals called for equality, self-reliance, and justice for the poor and oppressed.
I went to the north with a delegation of seven Korean Americans, two Korean Canadians and one other person who was also of zainichi Korean heritage. Our delegation was a diverse mixture of backgrounds, but we all held a desire to learn more about our northern half of the homeland. As our small plane began to descend onto Pyongyang Airport, my zainichi sister and I gazed upon the green land we were approaching. Our eyes welled up with tears. I am seeing a piece of land, I thought, that my mother has never seen – land that my grandmother lived on as a child –land closed because of a war. It was an overwhelming experience, but one I did not take for granted. I was here, I began to realize, to foster a relationship between Koreans in the north and the rest of the world and in doing so, to participate in a decades-old movement to end the Korean War and to reunify the peninsula.

The next two weeks changed my life. Not only were we greeted with the warmest embrace, much like that between long lost relatives, but we were asked time and again to recall what we saw in the north and to share that with the world. There was an amazing air of pride in the north’s revolutionary history, which was evident in the beautiful monuments dedicated to guerilla fighters, the intricate mosaic murals created with messages of resistance to US imperialism, and the historic sites delicately preserving what was left after the destruction of war. One delegate noted how amazing it was to see such monuments with faces that resembled hers. It made me sad to realize that my grandfather could not be openly proud of his Korean background in Japan. But, it gave me hope because as a third generation zainichi, I was restoring that connection to Korea.

As delegates, we were privileged to visit the demilitarized zone, the 38th parallel, and actually pay witness to how unnatural and cold the area was. We also visited the Sinchon memorial site where tens of thousands of Korean civilians, including women and children, were brutally murdered during the Korean War. We also experienced a more modern side to North Korea. We spent time at a flourishing cooperative farm where some youth farmers gave us a tour and showed us their small but clean living quarters. We visited babies and female patients at the maternity hospital in Pyongyang, where care varied from prenatal services to breast cancer treatment, all of which were free services. We took a short trip on their subway system, which was thoughtfully decorated with mosaic murals and floral-like chandeliers and with trains, we were told, that always ran on time.

Although the technology, buildings, transit systems, and hospital tools may not be cutting-edge, North Korea is not a place of despair and hopelessness. The famine in the mid-1990s was undeniably horrible but the North Koreans did their best to press on. If we in the U.S. truly want to help, we must focus on officially ending the Korean War and supporting the reunification of the country. North Korea feels the same. Everywhere we went, there were signs for tongil or reunification. We were repeatedly asked to send the message of tongil to people in our countries. North Korea wants peace on the Korean peninsula and has made concrete steps with South Korea towards that end.

As a part of our agreement to participate in the DEEP delegation, we were asked to conduct a report back of our experience. I also plan on continuing to talk to as many people as I can to simply get that negative image of North Korea out of people’s minds. The push for reunification cannot happen until we feel we can work with the people of North Korea. The people we met and the stories that were told were of a dignified, thoughtful, and genuine people.

Our bus ride back to the airport was a solemn one. We had all formed bonds with our guides, driver, and English translators, and we were not ready to go home. Inspired to share with our North Korean hosts what was in my heart, I read from my journal: “Coming to North Korea, I feel 100% accepted for the first time in my life, regardless of my ignorance of Korean language, history, and culture. I have learned to be proud to be Korean and that is a gift I will always cherish. You have inspired me to learn more about my heritage and to teach my family about what I learn. I finally have a homeland and I look forward to the day when my mother can return ‘home’ to one united Korea, her heart swelling with pride.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

END US funded military aid for Israeli - END the occupation of Gaza - FREE Palestine!

Recently the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation created a 30-second commercial about the US role in Israel's war against the Gaza strip. This commercial was censored by DirectTV. The Campaign is asking all blogs to show the commercial instead to spread the word about how our taxes are working to support occupation, war, and terror. Please click on the link below or on the title to see the ad.
The Campaign has listed below 4 ways you can take action:

1. Help Us Spread the Word. Do you have a blog, social networking site, or website? If so, then please consider reposting our ad above and linking it to this page on our website.

2. Tell All Your Friends to Watch Our Commercial. Watch the commercial on-line by going here:

3. Contact President Obama about His Budget Request for Military Aid to Israel. Our ad campaign is designed not only to educate people about the U.S. role in enabling Israel's war on and siege of the occupied Gaza Strip; it is also designed to get people to take action to change our country's policy toward Palestine/Israel to support human rights, international law, and equality.

On February 24, President Obama is scheduled to deliver his FY2010 budget "blueprint" to Congress, which is expected to contain $2.775 billion in military aid for Israel. Contact the President today and urge him to hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons instead of increasing arms transfers.

4. Make a tax-deductible contribution to the US Campaign. Help us to continue this advertising campaign and future ones by making a generous donation today. Help us to continue to get our message of human rights, international law, and equality broadcast to tens of millions of people by making your contribution today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Overseas Koreans get voting rights

The Korea Herald (February 6, 2009)

"Some problems in electoral procedures may inevitably occur, such as how to handle electoral irregularities. But all other nations went through such things, and I believe, after some period of trial and error, we can overcome them," Kim said.

Rival parties have begun efforts to court their potential voters.

The ruling Grand National Party launched a "U.S. GNP forum" in Los Angeles last month. The party also plans to establish another in Canada as early as this month, officials said.

The main opposition Democratic Party is seeking to establish an overseas government agency dedicated to enhancing the legal status of Korean nationals abroad.

In 1972, President Park Chung-hee stripped overseas Koreans of the right to participate in domestic elections, as many of them opposed his dictatorship.

How many people will be affected?

According to the National Election Commission, an estimated 3 million Koreans live in foreign countries - 1.45 million as permanent residents and 1.55 as temporary residents.

The NEC estimates the number of eligible voters aged 19 or more is about 2.4 million, or 80 percent of the total. In parliamentary elections, 2.4 million votes would be enough to win at least 10 proportional representation seats in the 299-member legislature, analysts presume.

Based on its internal survey, about 1.67 million people among them are expected to register with the NEC. Some 1.34 million are expected to actually vote, the NEC projected.

The figure is also significant, considering the slim margins between major candidates in past presidential elections. Former President Kim Dae-jung beat then Grand National Party chairman Lee Hoi-chang by a margin of 390,000 votes in 1997 while former President Roh Moo-hyun defeated Lee Hoi-chang by a margin of 570,000 votes in 2002.

Voting methods

Voting rights will be given for presidential elections and the proportional representation section of parliamentary elections.

Those with permanent foreign residency will not be allowed to cast ballots in elections for each electoral district as it is hard to identify which constituency an overseas Korean belongs to.

But Koreans with overseas residence will be able to vote in the country, if they register temporary residence here. This means they will be able to vote in the upcoming parliamentary by-elections slated for April 29 this year.

Temporary overseas Korean residents who have registered residency here can cast absentee votes.

All will cast their ballots in Korean embassies and consulates abroad rather than sending their votes by mail to avoid possible vote fraud.

Eligible voters must file an application with the National Election Commission via Korean missions from 150 days to 60 days before the election day.

Election campaigns will be conducted through candidates' or parties' internet homepages; speeches and advertisements via satellite broadcasting; and telephone.

Detailed measures aimed at preventing vote rigging have yet to be finalized, officials said.

Which party will benefit more?

The major bone of contention was how to define "overseas Koreans" in terms of voting rights.

The GNP contended that suffrage had to be given to as many overseas Koreans as possible. Permanent residents abroad tend to be older, and are regarded as more conservative in their political views, which some believe would benefit the conservative ruling party.

The main opposition Democratic Party had maintained that suffrage should be expanded in steps, first only to temporary overseas residents, including students and overseas Korean employees.

As voter turnout is expected to be lower due to the complicated and time-consuming voting process, and there are those who left their native land with hard feelings against the elite class, it is hard to say that the move will favor the ruling party.

Concerns raised by experts

Opponents have argued that Koreans outside the country could have too much of an influence on local elections regarding representatives and issues inside the country, given the small margins that often determine the outcome of presidential and parliamentary elections.

"I feel doubtful that overseas Koreans who are politically away from the country can determine political destiny here," said Choi Young-jin, a politics professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul.

"In terms of ethnicity, entitling them to vote here is meaningful. But voters here are members of a particular political community, all of whom are contemporarily based in the same location, the Korean Peninsula, and mull over issues facing that community. This issue needs to be treated apart from the ethnic standpoint."

"Strictly speaking, granting suffrage to overseas Koreans contradicts the principle of representative democracy. The suffrage is given to elect those who would work on behalf of us with people paying taxes," said Choi Han-soo, professor of political science at Konkuk University in Seoul.

But some showed different views.

"We are living in a globalized world where people frequently transcend national boundaries at a fast pace. Where people are geographically based is an irrelevant issue. It is something that is not in line with global standards," said Chung Dae-hwa, professor of political science at Sangji University in Wonju, Gangwon Province.

Some have voiced concern that in extreme cases, a situation in which voters in Korea refuse to accept an election result could take place.

Experts also point out that it is difficult to regulate electoral irregularities overseas as many Korean expatriates are not used to local election rules, and applying domestic election laws in foreign countries is difficult.

Monitoring illegal election campaigns, safely shipping ballots and a shortage of staffers who will manage the voting procedures on election day have been cited.

Some professors have highlighted the need to allow overseas Koreans to vote to elect lawmakers in each constituency.

"The bills divide overseas Koreans into two groups - those with permanent foreign residency and temporary residents. Though the court ruled the laws unconstitutional as they stipulate only those whose residency is registered can vote here, there appears to be another discriminatory element here," said Song Seok-won, politics professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.

"All Korean nationals should be treated equally. Running counter to the Constitution, the bills do not allow those with permanent residency to vote in (the constituency part of) general elections while temporary residents can," said Song.

Song added that although some say those with permanent residency should be treated differently as they don't fulfill taxation and military duty, such people comprise only a small fraction.

Some worry that the suffrage could hold back overseas Koreans from joining mainstream society where they live, as they become focused on politics of their native country rather than taking interest in their current communities.

Some also say that voting rights divide the Korean expatriate community along political lines.

Some also point out that limiting voting places only to overseas Korean missions could seriously harm voter turnout as only a few would bother to travel long distances to vote. They stressed the need to allow overseas Koreans to send their votes by mail or vote online, something many here oppose due to security concerns.

By Song Sang-ho


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Third Generation Zainichi Korean denied membership to Debate Club at the Nihon University's College of Law

University debate team suspends activities after resident Korean student claims discrimination
Courtesy of Mak and T3

The debate club of Nihon University’s College of Law suspended activities after a third-generation Korean resident said she was refused entry because of her ethnicity, The Asahi Shimbun learned.

The 21-year-old first-year student said she could not join the club in April because several senior members had a problem with her South Korean nationality.

Along with her mother, she lodged a discrimination complaint to the Tokyo-based university in early June.

The university administration commissioned lawyers to investigate the case and determined that the student was indeed discriminated against because of her nationality and ethnicity.

But members of the club denied that discrimination had anything to do with their refusal to let the student join.

The investigative team found that concerns were raised by senior club members over “how they would get along with a foreigner” and the possibility that she might be involved in a “radical religious activity.”

The club suspended activities in late June after a request from the university’s human rights committee.

Three senior members and two professors serving as club supervisors issued an apology to the student for causing “grief and pain.”

The student has refused to accept the apology because of their denial of discrimination.

The student attended an introductory session for prospective new members in late April, but was told the following day that she could not join.

A senior student told her that her class schedule would likely conflict with the club’s activities and that the club supervisor might dislike “the light color of her hair.”

However, she said she later learned from a friend who was a member of the club that senior members had said to the effect that they would “have a problem with her cultural background as a resident Korean.”

(IHT/Asahi: July 16,2008)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Koryo Saram - The Unreliable People

Last night Eclipse Rising members attended a screening organized by the Korean Community Center of the East Bay (KCCEB) and their youth faction at Alameda High School in Alameda, CA.
Koryo Saram is a documentary film about Josef Stalin's campaign of massive ethnic cleansing, where he forcibly deported everyone of Korean origin in Far East Russia to the steppe country of Central Asia , 3700 miles away.

This documentary charts the extraordinary untold history of the Koryo Saram (the Soviet Korean phrase for Korean person), dubbed "The Unreliable People" by Stalin. Through never-before-seen historical footage and emotional personal accounts from the original Koryo Saram, a lost history is pieced together, one that survived Stalin's mandate to eradicate the Korean language and tradition. In Kazakh, Korean, or Russian, the film asks questions that all immigrants can relate to: how to hold onto one's traditions, and how to save one's culture from being overwhelmed.

The experience of these Koreans in Kazakh is extremely relate able to the experience of our community of zainichi Koreans. The story is beautifully told with a message of resilience, hope and strength.

Please check out their website for more information.

website for KCCEB:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


My obaachan fell from the stairs in her house on Dec 27, so she's staying with my family right now. She's my mom's mom, so she's Japanese. I think she's around 88. She hit her butt when she fell, but I heard she's recovered. She didn't break any bones, which is amazing for her age.

She's the only reason why I go back to Japan every year. Every time I leave her house after the last visit before flying back here, I cry on the way to the bus stop. Thinking that I may not be able to see her next year, I just can't hold back my tears.

She's the only grandparent left for me. I never met my grandfathers in person. My Korean harumoni passed away when I was 16. I had less opportunities to talk with her while she was alive because we would visit her only once a year. Now that I began my journey of exploring my zainichi Korean identity, I regret that she's not around anymore.

"Community" is a popular word in English. I didn't have any so-called community to belong to when I lived in Japan. My Korean relatives lived far away, and there was no collective consciousness about being zainichi Korean in the area I lived in. The only thing that would make me feel Korean was my dad, uncles, aunt, and maybe cousins, who all centered around my harumoni. I didn't even call her harumoni because I didn't know any Korean at that time.

My "community" was very small. My "people" was only handful. I don't see my full Japanese friends truly as my people. There are actually only two Japanese people who I consider as my people: my mom and obaachan. After all, they struggled together with my dad's family, directly or indirectly. And I'm so proud of them because there are still people who voice that they wouldn't let their kids marry a zainichi for whatever reasons they fail to sugarcoat. My mom and obaachan (plus my grandpa) were more open-minded 30 years ago than those people today. I am so proud.

I'm not close to my immediate and extended family after all, but they're still what made me who I am. I am proud to be Japanese because of my obaachan, and I'm proud to be Korean because of my harumoni. I'm also proud of who I am because of the people I love today. Just because I'm Korean, I won't speak for or side with Korean people without thinking hard enough. Nor with Japanese people. I'll support my family no matter what, but it cannot extend to the entire people.

Sometimes it's not as easy to say that I'm proud to be Japanese because we have so many privileges and a history of wrongdoing. Only recently have I started to negotiate my Japanese identity so that I don't have to negate any part of who I am. I'd never be able to be proud of Japanese society, but when I think of what I've learned and inherited from my obaachan, I just feel extremely proud.

People depart. Our grandparents become our children's ancestors. They make me grateful and proud, but would they be proud of me? Maybe. Maybe not. They live in the past after all. But there's one thing I know: I will be an ancestor of our great great grandchildren (whether or not I have kids), and I'd better make them fucking proud of me.

I'm not interested in passing down my gene or sustaining my blood lineage. Instead, I want to create a world where our younger generation can feel safer and more empowering. I want to pass down this heritage of pride. I want to make something that will be recalled by my great great grandchildren as a revolution, so that they can feel proud enough to make another revolution.

My obaachan writes to me rather frequently. I always for get to reply. My gratitude and pride for her are too huge to be squeezed into words. I will never forget what she recently wrote to me:

You can never make too much effort.


Becoming Myself

I was born 22 years ago. My mom named me Haruki (陽生) because she felt like the sun (陽) was born (生). She never thought of giving me a Korean name.

I got my last name from my mom. That's why no one thinks that I'm Korean unless I tell them. My dad's last name is Pak (朴・박) and my mom's is Eda (江田). This is due to the laws around immigration and the family registering system in Japan. So my dad and big brother have Pak, and my mom, little sister and I have Eda.

Not many things differentiated my mixed-ethnicity family from other Japanese only families. I mean, everyone in Japan eats kimchi. We would have family gatherings of my dad's side on New Year's, and those were basically the only time I would recognize my Korean-ness. Or Koreanity.

My Korean uncles and aunt go by Japanese names. Their last name is Arai (新井). My dad, meanwhile, goes by his Korean name Jang-Joon Park (朴將俊・박장준). He stopped using his Japanese name Masatoshi long time ago (I don't know when). My maternal grandma still calls him "Toshi-kun."

I didn't know my grandma's Korean name until I was 17, when she lived in a nursing home to pass away before long. For 17 years of my life, she was Mariko Arai (新井まり子). When I visited her with my family, I saw her name written on her door: Myung-Soon Ha (河明順・하명순). No one told me how to pronounce it in Korean. I figured out with my dictionary. She was called "Kawa-san" (Kawa is Japanese pronunciation of her last name 河) by the nurses. I guess she was put into the nursing home as Meijun Kawa (河明順): not as Mariko Arai nor Myung-Soon Ha, and she carried that name to her grave.

And I don't even know my grandpa's name.

My Korean-ness was never explored throughout my life in Japan. Having a Japanese last name, I was never questioned, and I didn't feel the need to declare that in front of my class. I didn't hide it, I told my friends whenever I felt like it, but I didn't tell every single person I knew. I didn't know Korean, and I didn't know many other Korean Japanese. All those I knew were just like me: culturally full Japanese.

My Queerness was a bigger issue for me than my Korean-ness as I grew up.
I came out to myself when I was 11. I was never worried or depressed about my sexuality. It was the moment when I realized I could never be like my friends. I realized I was special for being Korean and Queer. And I decided to do something special in my life, rather than reproducing and creating a family. It was too boring an idea for me to pursue.

I tried to learn about Gay and Lesbian culture in Japan. I tried to read books about LGBTQ studies, which are really scarce, I went online, and I tried working at a gay bar instead of showing up to organizing group because that was more accessible.

I knew it was never enough, so I came to the US. I started making friends, focusing on exploring my gay identity. I also started meeting Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, who had never been in my image of "America." I wanted to learn more about API Americans and "immigrants" in the US in general. I made friends with API folks with various backgrounds. I became interested in their languages. And food.

As I made friends with gays and lesbians, I sought for Queer folks that are API. As I made friends with API folks, I sought for APIs that are Queer. Why not? I always want to become friends with people who I can identify with, as well as people that are "different" from myself.
Plus, I wanted to date an English-speaker so that I would improve my English, but I didn't necessarily want to date a White guy; my search for Queer APIs was somewhat desperate for this reason. (My English had become hella good before I found someone)

When I made friends with Koreans, I emphasized that I was half Korean, so that they would see me as an insider. I felt bad for claiming my Korean-ness, which I never fully explored, just to be friends with them. I felt like I was deceiving them. I never forgot to mention that I couldn't speak Korean, or that I'm culturally full Japanese, to alleviate this guilt.

I have picked up so many labels since I came here. Some of the labels became bigger, some more noticeable, and other less significant. 18-years-old. Student. Japanese. Zainichi. Gay. Korean. Single. International. Male. Citizen. Non-citizen. A child of a non-citizen. Bilingual. Alien. Asian. Multilingual. FOB. Authentic. Fake. Unmarried. Concerned. Political. Activist. Radical. Queer. Taken. 22-years-old.

My Korean name is simply Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters of my name,
陽生. Why did I start claiming it? Because I want to go to Tibet with my mom without concerning the Chinese government's inspection on facebook. And maybe, I also want to be more Korean. I want to compensate the miseducation I went through in Japanese schools. I want to learn more about my people. I want to know more about my own family. I want to become myself, without denying any tiny little part of my colliding identities.

I am made up with many different identities. Each identity is connected to his/herstory and our future. Being myself doesn't stop within myself; I need to know so much more about the past, and I need to think really really hard about how these identities should look like in the future.

This journey began when I became myself, but I am far from becoming myself.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Zainichi Vocalist - Youjeen

Youjeen is an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan. She attended a Korean school and met the people who would later become the band Cherry Filter. Youjeen eventually left Japan for Korea to pursue a career in music as the vocalist of Cherry Filter. She is fluent in Japanese, Korean and English and uses all three languages in her solo work however, most of her solo lyrics are in Japanese. In 2001, Youjeen temporarily left Cherry Filter to pursue a solo career in Japan, there she released music with the help of ex-LUNA SEA member J and The Foo Fighter’s Franz Stahl. Youjeen’s Japanese career was fairly successful; releasing 5 singles and 2 albums over the course of two years. However, after the release of her second Japanese album BEWITCH, her activities in the Japanese music scene ceased, nevertheless Youjeen is still active in Korea as part of Cherry Filter.
Check out videos, etc at: