Yeonmi Park was born in Hyesan, North Korea. Most of her childhood was spent being told what to do, say, sing, wear, and even think. She was told by her educators that North Korea was the best, and the rest of the world was dangerous and disgusting. A black market copy of Titanic showed her there was more to the world. There was freedom.
At the age of nine, Yeonmi Park witnessed the execution of a close friend’s mother for a minor infraction. When her father was arrested for smuggling metals to China and sent to a labor camp, she became a prisoner’s daughter and all future prospects disappeared. Her father was tortured and became ill. Her family became destitute, eating grass and insects to keep from starving. Finally, when Yeonmi was thirteen, the decision was made to to defect, and she, her mother, and her sister crossed the river into China. Her father would join them later.
Unfortunately, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. Her sister became lost and presumed dead. Her mother gave herself to be raped in order to protect Yeonmi from being raped herself. Then they were sold into the human trafficking industry in China. When her father was finally able to join them, he was diagnosed and died of colon cancer.
Yeonmi was fifteen before she and her mother were able to walk across the Gobi Desert into Mongolia, into the safety of the South Korean embassy. Five years later, she was reunited with her sister.
Today, Yeonmi is living in South Korea. She is a student majoring in Crimial Justice, and a human rights activist. She has become the face of the oppression experienced by residents of North Korea. Her former homeland is displeased. In January 2015, North Korea released a video of Yeonmi’s family denying the things she has said, even saying her father died in North Korea. Yeonmi is willing to recover her father’s ashes and have them DNA tested to prove her father died in China.
In September 2015, Yeonmi published a book telling her story in details never before shared. It was not until she began work on this book that she finally told the truth about what happened in China, that she and her mother were sold into human trafficking. She was ashamed of this, and worried that her prospects would be sullied by this information. She has come to understand that she needs to be completely honest if she wishes to bring about honest change.
In North Korea, Yeonmi was taught she had no voice. Now, however, she has found her voice and she is calling North Korea out. She wants North Koreans to know there is freedom: freedom to sing your favorite song, to wear jeans, and to watch any movie you want. She wants the rest of world to know that North Koreans are dying for freedom.