Wake Forest’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter hosted famous North Korean defector and Human Rights activist Yeonmi Park. Park shared the story of her escape from North Korea at age of 13 and the years she spent as a victim of human trafficking in China before finally reaching freedom in South Korea.
Park began her speech by describing her childhood in North Korea, where she focused on the effects of starvation and malnutrition. Her family resorted to eating grasshoppers and dragonflies as a kid. On the brink of starvation, she and her mother escaped into China, hoping for a simple bowl of rice.
Her escape included crossing a frozen river and trekking through the Gobi Desert. During this escape she weighed about 50 pounds.
Even in China, her options were grim. She could either go back to North Korea or be human trafficked. The fate of many of these slaves was to be held in a basement, repeated raped, and some even had their organs harvested while still alive. Park was sold to a single man, acknowledging that this was so much better than her life in North Korea.
After two years of being with one person as his slave, his gambling addiction caused him to lose so much money that he couldn’t afford to feed her. Once he let her go, she pretended to be Christian to South Korean missionaries, which allowed her to escape China. Once in South Korea, she was able to immigrate to the United States.
The first place she went to in the US was Texas. There she stepped into a Walmart for the first time and was blown away by the variety of brands and products. Park had never experienced such abundance in her life.
“Capitalism is a pure miracle,” said Park. “Only God can make it.”
Park emphasized how rare it was to escape to the United States, stating that only about 200 North Koreans have made it. During her journey, she never knew what her next step would be or whether she would survive. She barely knew what freedom meant. It was explained to her that the choice to wear jeans was freedom and as a teenage girl, that was one of the things she wanted.
Sophomore Jessica Stern said she was “blown away by her story and strength to keep escaping and trying to get out.”
Throughout her speech, Park paralleled communism with the behavior of the far left in the United States. The anti-American rhetoric of the far left reminded her of communist North Korea. She focused specifically on the ideologies taught at Columbia University. She cautioned against indoctrination and urged students not to take their liberties for granted.