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Euwan Kim’s Comfort Women Memorial

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Euwan Kim’s Comfort Women Memorial

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Simon Yang

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Besides being a student-athlete and busy junior, Euwan Kim (11) is an activist dedicated to filling gaps in history with hard truths.

Kim and the Youth Council of Fort Lee (YCFL) unveiled The Comfort Women Memorial in Constitution Park, Fort Lee on May 23, 2018, paying respect to the Korean women trafficked by the Japanese Imperial Government in World War II.

“The hole in the statue represents a gap in history for the Comfort Women,” Kim, who designed the memorial, said. “I wanted to convey that such a gap needs to be filled, and that people should learn more about the stories of the victims,” she said.

Motivation for the Monument

The installation of the Comfort Women Memorial marked a milestone in the YCFL’s mission to raise awareness for the comfort women victims. During Spring break of 2016, Kim and her Fort Lee peers first decided to honor the memory of these figures, she said.

“My friends and I watched a South Korean film called ‘Spirit’s Homecoming,’ which portrayed the experiences of two young Korean girls in 1943 during the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula,” Kim said.

Kim was horrified by the content in the film, but after doing more research about the victims she was even more shocked to learn that the Japanese government had yet to formally apologize for its war crimes, she said.

Although Kim and the members of the YCFL do not have a familial connection with any of the Comfort Women, they believed it was their responsibility as Koreans to raise awareness for the women, Kim said.

“We want to bring attention to Comfort Women and honor the memory of those who passed away before receiving a genuine and formal apology from Japan,” Vice President of the YCFL Gemma Hong said.

According to an article in the Washington Post, approximately 200,000 Korean Women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army and three quarters died during the war. 

Gaining Traction

Kim and the YCFL coordinated with the Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and the Fort Lee Council to create the memorial and received unanimous approval from both bodies in December of 2017, Kim said.

After emailing him a proposal, the mayor invited Kim and the council to his office for an official meeting to discuss their plans, she said.

Upon receiving approval, Kim and her peers attended public forums and Fort Lee Council meetings to lobby for the monument, she said. The YCFL was able to raise $40,000 in less than three months through fundraisers and private donors, she said.

“Seeing it all come together during the public reveal ceremony was very rewarding for all of us,” Kim said.

Reactions to the Project

The YCFL has also garnered public and international support. Kim and Hong were contacted and interviewed by the media company NowThis, an American media website that specializes in making video news content on social media. The video of the interview was posted on Facebook, calling attention to the YCFL’s achievements, Kim said.

“I was very happy when I first got the email from NowThis,” Hong said. “I had seen their videos on social media before and knew that their videos got hundreds of views, and the idea of being able to use their reach to spread awareness for our initiative was surreal,” she said.

In addition to NowThis, Kim has been contacted by other major outlets, including ABC News, New York Times, and Korean Broadcasting System. The council has even received word of support from the South Korean Ambassador, she said.

“The response has been great so far. I went to LA this past summer, and someone recognized me immediately because she had watched the NowThis video,” Kim said. “It reassures me knowing that our efforts are not simply localized, and have the potential to make national changes,” she said.

Hong read comments on the video saying that viewers were startled by the issue, she said.  “I was glad to see that people were tagging their friends in the video. The goal is to raise awareness, after all.”

“Prior to hearing about Euwan’s initiative, I didn’t know much about the comfort women victims,” Daniel Lee (11) said. “I’m sure there are many Korean Americans like me that do not know much about this issue, so I’m really happy that Euwan is raising awareness for it,” he said.

Yet not all public responses to the YCFL’s mission have been positive. Kim has received pieces of hate mail, which accuse Kim and the YCFL of spreading false knowledge and ruining the Japanese reputation, she said.

Kim and the YCFL remain undeterred and aim to continue their quest to educate the public on the historical tragedy, she said.

Stephen Park P ’19 believes that with more people like Kim and the members of the YCFL, awareness around the issue will spread. “It’s reassuring to see that the younger generation is very aware of this cultural tragedy and is willing to make a difference,” he said.

KAAGNY Parade

The YCFL’s installation of the memorial is only one of the group’s many achievements. The council also had the opportunity to march in the annual Korean Festival and Parade hosted by the Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY).

KAAGNY has hosted the event in New York for more than 30 years to increase awareness about the growing Korean American population in the tristate area, Kim said.

In KAAGNY’s 2018 parade, the YCFL marched with their float, which was one of the original comfort women statues called the “Statue of Peace,” Kim said.

The bronze statue depicted a young girl dressed in traditional Korean attire sitting beside an empty chair. The empty chair next to the girl symbolized the comfort women’s solitude in their struggles, Kim said.

“To march alongside other Korean Americans embracing their culture was an eye-opening experience. We were protecting not only our history but also the descendants of the very people who perservered through the chaos,” Kim said.

“We shouldn’t overlook such a horrific event in history, and that’s why what Euwan is doing is so great,” Max Chung (11) said.

Future Projects

In the coming years, the YCFL aims to reach even further and widen its platform to raise awareness, Kim said.

The council is currently working with the Fort Lee Board of Education to implement the comfort women victims’ legacies in the history curriculum in Fort Lee schools, she said. The YCFL also plans to present at the United Nations, she said.

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