“It’s not easy to be free”; Yeonmi Park, North Korean defector, speaks at UVU 

Reading Time: 3 minutes North Korean defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park spoke to students, government officials, and faculty regarding the dangers of communism, and her story fleeing the Kim Regime in North Korea.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yeonmi Park, North Korean defector and human rights activist, spoke to a crowded venue of students, faculty, locals and government officials at UVU regarding the dangers of communism and her story fleeing the isolated nation. 

Occurring on the evening of Feb. 7, Park began the evening off with a joke that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the night. 

“I get very nervous before I speak,” Park began. “When I get so nervous, I tell myself this one thing that keeps me calm. I tell myself that, ‘Even if you got out there and say something so stupid, you’re not going to be executed.’” 

Park visited UVU as a part of the Young America’s Foundation speaker series, where she has been traveling across the nation advocating against socialist ideas and speaking about her experience in North Korea. Along with attendance from Former Governor Gary Herbert, there were several legislators in the packed Keller Building auditorium. 

Among the things mentioned by Park were her experiences surviving the famine of the 1990s, navigating the North Korean caste system, fleeing with her mother and being sold into human sex trafficking in China, and eventually making her way to America. 

“They divided us into castes based on what our ancestors did,” Park said about the caste system. “If my great grandfather was a landowner, [for example], the government said, ‘Your blood is tainted.’ Imagine that. Your government says that your blood is tainted.” 

During her speech, Park addressed many practices in North Korea that she claimed are being preached by socialists and Marxists in the United States. She related the caste point to comments about Americans whose ancestors were slave holders: “This is what is happening in America right now; if your ancestors owned slaves, you’re guilty. Your genetics is oppressive.” 

Later, Park shared her story about being sold into human sex trafficking when she and her mother fled to China. She identifies four areas North Korean women end up when they flee. The first were organ harvesters, the second was the sex traffickers in brothels, the third was as mail order bridges for men in China. The last was being able to find freedom. 

“By some miracle, I met [the] Christian missionaries coming from South Korea who were rescuing North Korean defectors,” Park expressed. “These missionaries told me there was a way to be free.” 

Park’s message revolved around her experiences learning what it meant to be free. Park recalled how hard it was for her to adjust once she arrived in South Korea and eventually the U.S. 

“It’s not easy to be free, it’s exhausting to be free,” Park asserted. “I learned in South Korea that freedom was responsibility. It wasn’t just watching K-dramas and wearing jeans. In South Korea, I had to be responsible for the choices I was making…. Only in freedom [can my] child can exist.” 

In communism, Park explained, her child would have been killed for not being pure Korean. In North Korea, racial purity is practiced by the regime. Park summarized her experiences; in capitalism, she could be who she was and not have to worry about being killed. She later related this to how she could not understand why some in America would want to try socialism. 

“I have so many friends, perfectly nice people, are fantasizing destroying America because they want to try socialism so bad,” Park remarked. She later retold a story about how her friend said capitalism was evil because it created inequality, and she later related this to homeless people. Park responded to a question about how hard work pays off. 

“What a concept, what a thing to celebrate, that you can rise up. You don’t need to be all equally poor and starving together,” Park asserted. “And that’s when I understood, [my friends] are so brilliant in many other ways, but they didn’t not get any good education. They never learned the actual reality of socialism.” 

For more information on Yeonmi Park and her story, visit her YouTube channel. For more information on YAF, visit their website. For more information on the Herbet Insititute and their opportunities for students, visit their website. To watch the full broadcast, visit here

As said in a previous article, some claims by Yeonmi Park are disputed by reporters and analysts familiar with North Korea. Park has maintained that these inconsistencies are a result of translation issues when she first escaped North Korea.