On June 26, 2007, Yoon Han Bong, the Last Fugitive involved in the May 18th Gwangju People's Uprising of 1980 and primary contributor to the progressive Korean American grassroots movement, passed away at the age of 58. Yoon is widely recognized by the Korean American movement in the U.S. and the human rights and social justice movement in South Korea as a critical, astute and eloquent political thinker & leader.
Here in Los Angeles and the United States, Yoon challenged and motivated many young Korean Americans to combine their passion and awareness of injustice with practical skills in organizing, education and movement building. He taught young activists to always start with a broad and accurate political analysis if issues at the local, national and international level. We were taught that the Korean American community serves as our home and the crux of our organizing strength, and we must branch off to build meaningful coalitions with other communities in order to fulfill our social justice agenda. By example, we learned that pure & genuine social activism is realized by the integration of our political ideals to how we live our own lives.
Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 5pm
Korean Resource Center (900 S. Crenshaw Bl., L.A., CA 90019)
Remembering Yoon Han Bong
Wan-Mo Kang, former president of Young Koreans United of U.S.A. (Translated from Korean)
I first met my sunbaenim, (senior brother) Yoon Han Bong in May of 1983, when I was a foreign graduate student in New York. I met him with a group of students concerned about the path of our homeland. We were urban and full of intellectual pretentiousness; we thought we would meet a guy in a suit, with a refined speech. When he walked in, he did not look what we expected at all... he resembled a handyman idling around Seoul's Union Station, with rugged hands. I thought: this can't be him, right? Is someone else coming behind him? and looked for others. Sometimes I remember that first encounter as if it happened yesterday.
Yoon sunbaenim revolutionized our lives upside down. I remember people saying, He's the living Jesus! or This is our Lenin in Korea! During the next year, we organized local chapters of Young Koreans United in New York, New England, and Philadelphia, and went on organizing. Giving up everything, like a wild horse we worked relentlessly for 10 years with Yoon sunbaenim at our side.
Since then, the children of the founding members of YKU are going to college and Yoon sunbaenim has left this world. We still reminisce about him and often ask ourselves: What would Yoon sunbaenim do? but we now have to work on our own. In thinking of Yoon sunbaenim, we reflect on the teachings he left behind, and our own life.
Have we become overwhelmed by everyday life and lost all vision for the future? Are we not distancing ourselves from his teachings, which emphasized dreams and hopes based on long-term planning and a wide perception of the world?
Have we been speaking ephemeral words that lead us astray from the real world and the community around us? Have we been unable to keep in constant communication with the people and seek the right path ahead?
Have we cast a blind eye to the challenges ahead, trapped in the old ways? Have we settled for rigid doctrines, and forgotten to lay our roots in a rapidly changing world?
How much are we really doing so that our next generation can realize their dreams and carry on the torch for the movement? Have we fully embraced and reached out beyond cultural barriers to 1.5 and second generation Korean Americans?
As we seek to find a clear answer to these questions, we approach the first anniversary of your passing.
Yoon sunbaenim, leave the work behind to those of us who are left behind. May you rest in peace.
The Legacy of 5.18 People's Uprising and Yoon Han Bong: The Work that Lies Ahead
by Kwangsun Jang, Philadelphia member of the Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice (Translated from Korean)
We do not participate in the movement for Korea's democracy and reunification merely out of patriotic longing or a burst of nationalism. We are immigrants in the United States, the epicenter of capitalism, seeking to lay our roots here for generations to come. A society built on individualistic values may lead us to into forgetting about our own identity as Korean Americans, dismiss our neighbors and society in general - even our parents and siblings. We may be drawn to worry solely for our own well being and personal success. To do so will weaken our human spirit and prevent us from laying our roots in this land passing on a prosperous future for our children.
By confirming our responsibility and fortifying our links of solidarity towards our neighbors, both the U.S. and Korean can overcome these temptations. By doing so, we strengthen our identity, and bring ourselves to walk the right path. This is the spirit we must pass on to future generations, so that we may live in harmony within a diverse, multi-ethnic society. This is the reason we engage in the movement for Korea's democracy and reunification; it is a constant struggle to emerge as the best of ourselves.
The Gwangju People's Uprising was the spark that transformed the movement for Korea's democracy and reunification expanding it from its former focus on an individual's consciousness to a mass-based, organizational movement. The movement in the U.S. was able to grow because of Yoon Han Bong, one of its grassroots leaders who had received political asylum in the U.S.
As a mass movement organization, Young Koreans United and the Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice accomplished the following: First, we established our own identity through continual learning of Korea's history, culture, ideology, and political economy. The International Congress for Peaceful and Self-Determined Reunification which presented a way of re-thinking a divided Korea as a united Korea and opened the road for peaceful dialogue and collaboration outside the frame of the Cold War, was among our greatest achievements.
Second, we captured the energy and attention of young people, while incorporating workers and small business owners, as the leaders of the movement--- moving away from previous elitist forms that relied on ideologues and academics.
Third, we brought the movement into everyday life. Funding was procured by fasting one day a week or recycling cans. Campaigns were broadly deployed through postcards or telegrams which were easy to execute in daily life. These seemingly small efforts were part of the larger movement. We also used poongmul, a traditional community cultural tradition, in political actions to catch the public's attention.
Fourth, we sought to actively reach out to mainstream society and strengthen solidarity ties with broad political & social sectors. Our experience in carrying out political and cultural outreach activities in D.C. and the founding of community centers in major urban cities demonstrate how a mass movement can connect with non-profit community based organizations.
Fifth, we raised our voices on social and political issues that affect the every day lives of minority communities such as immigrant rights.
Sixth, we raised awareness of the fact that a progressive movement involved a measure of self-sacrifice and self reflection.
We have held an egalitarian structure in which no member - be it a leader, an organizer, a regular member or a financial supporter - has sought or gained fame or influence by belonging to our organization. Sincere dedication is the biggest drive in changing our society. I hope that our organizing work to date becomes strengthened, rooting our political power on this land, and allowing future generations to proudly recognize their heritage and engage in American society and the progressive movement. I believe this to be the mission entrusted to us 28 years ago by the Gwangju People's Uprising and the late Yoon Han Bong.
About Yoon Han Bong’s Life
Yoon Han Bong was born in Kang Jin, South Jeolla Province, South Korea in 1948. As a college student, his leadership role in the Youth and Student Coalition for Democracy led to his expulsion from Jun Nam University. From 1978 to 1979, Yoon was imprisoned multiple times under violation of Special Order 9 for opposing the military dictatorship of the time. The following year, Yoon was blacklisted as the most wanted due to his involvement in the May 18 Gwangju People's Uprising. (This event was the genesis of the modern democracy movement in Korea and more than decade of activism in South Korea and internationally led to the end of successive military dictatorships.) In April, 1981, Yoon fled South Korea by stowing away on a cargo ship and after more than 40 days, arrived in the United States where he received political asylum.
Upon Yoon's arrival in the United States, he focused on giving building an overseas solidarity movement to support the democracy movement in South Korea. Among his accomplishments are the founding of the Korean Resource Center in 1983, Young Koreans United (YKU) in 1984 and the Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice of USA in 1987. YKU spawned the formation of grassroots community based organizations throughout the country including the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center in Chicago, YKASEC – Empowering the Korean American Community in New York City and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC).
In May, 1993, after South Korea elected its first civilian president by direct popular election, Yoon returned home --- ending 12 years of political asylum in the United States. Upon his return, Yoon established the Korea Future Research Center (analytical research and planning on the future of Korea) and played a leadership role in the formation of the May 18 Memorial Foundation which seeks to transmit the spirit of democracy and human rights throughout the Asia Pacific region. From 2003 to 2006, Yoon served as the co-chair the “No on Park Jung Hee Memorial Museum People's Coalition and in 2004, he was elected as the first chairperson of the “Deu-Bul” (Wild Fire) Activist Commemoration Project to recognize the grassroots leaders of the May 18 Gwangju People’s Uprising.
As a young man, Yoon Han Bong’s body suffered from the hardships of struggling against government repression. For 15 years, his lungs have been failing him and he was in great need of a transplant. Complications from an operation on June 23 led to his passing three days later at approximately 8:00 pm PST. Yoon is survived by Soha Shin, a former member of Young Koreans United of Los Angeles and former social service director of the Korean Resource Center.
As people in Korea mark the end of the ritual 49 days of mourning, Korean Americans in California will also gather together to celebrate his life and legacy. Please join us as we seek to keep his spirit alive for the next generation.
Program begins at 5:00 pm and potluck dinner follows at 6pm. Please contact Heejoo Yoon of the Korean Resource Center at 323. 937. 3718 for details.
Sponsored by: Young Koreans United of USA, Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice, Korean Resource Center, NAKASEC
6/29/2007, Young Koreans United of USA
Photos during the commeoration of his first year death anniversary :
(Note: The text of the articles here were mostly lifted from the commemorative magazine and historical guide dedidcated to the late Yoon Han Bong with the title The Spirit of the 5.18 Uprising Blossoms Overseas- History of Young Koreans United and Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice -1984-2008).
Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice of Los Angeles
Korean Resource Center of Los Angeles (http://www.krcla.org)
Source/Rights - http://www.ykuusa.org/english/mryoon819.html
Photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/krcla/1189886489/in/set-72157601584827589/