Yeonmi Park was never supposed to be considered an icon or a hero, just merely another survivor of a disastrous and dangerous regime that turned its back on its own people. As a North Korean defector, at the age of 13 no less, Yeonmi had to live life on the run for years. She was sold into human trafficking, forced to watch her parents abused, and eventually forced to become the child mistress of a rich businessman. Through it all Yeonmi never lost sight of what she one day hoped to have: freedom. After trekking through the Gobi Desert, enduring -40 degree weather along the way, Yeonmi eventually found freedom at 15 years old. Now, despite her once best efforts to stay quiet, she is becoming an icon for the resistance of North Korea’s dangerous brutality.
It happened all at once for Yeonmi, who now lives in Los Angeles. She had been invited to speak with Hannah Song, of Liberty in North Korea, and Savannah Guthrie, an anchor for the Today Show. Not realizing that her words would become emblazoned on the internet thanks to a viral video on the Independent, Yeonmi spoke in halting English of her formative years in North Korea. She spoke of watching her friends and family members killed in the streets for minor infractions. She spoke, with her porcelain doll like eyes watering, of how her father was dragged away and forced into a labor camp. She spoke of a world that so few of us, born in America, will ever truly comprehend. She spoke of living under the dictator Kim Jong Un.
Since her escape and ascent to becoming a public figure, the regime in North Korea has begun to take notice — and that’s not a good thing, exactly. The North Korean government has a history of attempting to silence defectors and detractors of their regime. Defectors who have attempted to spread packets of information, via balloons, to North Korean citizens have seen attempted assassination attempts. We have seen writers who criticized the North Korean government killed on the street. Mostly, however, North Korea takes to character assassination and slander — as is the case with Yeonmi Park. North Korea launched an 18 minute anti-defector video on their official website that sought to discredit Park in every way possible. Yeonmi was unbowed, unbent, and unbroken.
Now Yeonmi is continuing to stand tall, all 5’2 of her figure, in the face of the most regressive government on the planet. She is becoming an ambassador for North Korean defection, a spotlight for the rally against human trafficking, and a true beacon of the people. Mostly, however, she wants to tell the world of the hidden strength and hopes of the North Korean people who are still trapped in their nightmarish country. She spoke passionately about the fact that they were not ‘passive victims’. She spoke of 14 year old girls getting ‘sold for $200’. She spoke of their dreams to just have ‘human rights’. Eventually her words will lead to action.