Yeonmi Park is a young, 21 year old globally known human rights activist, and she is one of the most famous defectors from the oppressive and sadistic regime of North Korea. Her story is well known by many, and it will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who listens to her tell it including tears of sadness and tears of joy. She is also one of the most hated women in North Korea, and she is one of the most feared because of her work in the field of human rights, specifically bringing North Korea under a bigger microscope and rallying more people to criticize and hate Kim Jong-Un, has led his regime to utterly despise her.
She came from a a moderately wealthy family of mid-level civil servants. She was born in 1993, and she was only taught a couple things in her life that mattered. She was taught to love the supreme leader at the time, Kim Jong-Il (Kim Jong-Un’s father), and she was taught to hate all enemies of North Korea like the United States, but when the famine hit North Korea hard her world came crashing down around her. She learned hunger, and she learned fear and paranoia about her dear leader. Everything she new, all of the weak but unchallenged illusions about her government, were completely shattered. From an early age, she was taught what to say, what to think and how to feel. Her mother taught her that no one can be trusted, and her mother was quoted as saying that in North Korea, “Even the mice and birds have ears.” According to Yeonmi, when she was just nine years old she witnessed the mother of her best friend murdered by a firing squad over a relatively minor offense.
The Park family was beginning to go hungry, and Yeonmi’s father risked his life to insure that his family wouldn’t starve so he began smuggling food into them by trading it to the Chinese for valuable metals like gold and silver. Of course, it wasn’t long before her father was caught and sentenced to 17 years in one of North Korea’s infamous labor camps that regime denies even exists. North Korea is known for punishing an entire family for the offense or defection of another, and she and her family found themselves in a dire situation. Her father made the decision to defect, and that began the family’s tragic journey across China, through the Gobi Desert and onto the South Korean embassy in China so they could find a better life.
Her journey was filled with tragedy, but it had a happy ending. Her father had sent his wife, Yeonmi of yeonmi.net, and her sister ahead of him because he had grown ill. He later joined them, and on the way through China her dad died from stomach cancer, and she had to bury him with her own hands in the mountains. Her sister disappeared, she and her mother finally made it and several years afterwards her sister was able to join them.