North Korean Defector Yeonmi Park: “We Cried for Them Not to Deport Us. We Would Be Killed.”

Yeonmi Park‘s family defected and abandoned life in their native North Korea when she was just thirteen years old. Now at twenty-three, Yeonmi has made a point to share her story with others. “People need to know,” Yeonmi said. “My father died without knowing democracy. We could not even comprehend what freedom meant.” Yeonmi’s parents began saving money to hire smugglers to assist them in leaving North Korea. Her family had already faced many hardships, but their awakening came after watching the 1997 film Titanic. “We were able to see that life could be different,” Yeonmi said. “My friend’s mother was executed for watching a James Bond film and sharing it with others. I saw it happen. Then I realized I had done the same thing, hundreds of times.” Yeonmi’s father was arrested during an illegal attempt to raise money for his family. Her family became impoverished due to the loss of her father’s income. They were faced with starvation. “We were given just a frozen potato, many times,” she said of her early life. Yeonmi’s mother hired smugglers to aid them in fleeing to China. They intended to remain in China only temporarily, but the smugglers had other plans for the terrified two. One of the smugglers raped and enslaved the teen and her mother, after days of leading them through dark forests, across mountains, and over partially frozen rivers. Yeonmi was taken as a child-bride. “I do not like to speak of it, “Yeonmi said. “It is a shame for a North Korean woman to lose their purity. Speaking of it, to me, feels like the world has ended.” Yeonmi and her mother were captured together but later freed. The two planned to cross into Mongolia and somehow find their way to South Korea. While they did arrive at their destination, they encountered hardships during their journey. Yeonmi and her mother survived their trek through the Gobi Desert and were detained by border guards. “We cried to them not to deport us to North Korea,” Yeonmi said. “We told them that we would be killed.” Yeonmi and her mother were deported to South Korea where they have since worked to grasp and understand freedom. Yeonmi of casey and yeonmi show enrolled in college and became a human rights activist.

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