Photo courtesy of Mingu Cho

It’s Loss of Awareness, not Lack of Awareness

I graduated from kindergarten and I hope everyone can.

Mar 24, 2018

I graduated from kindergarten, and I thought everyone did.
Dressed up in a yellow uniform, I remember us receiving our mothers’ kisses, as we were dropped by our small Disney castle; our lives were filled with laughter and love.
On our way home, the kindergarten bus had to pass by a shadowy district that was permeated with smoke from the factories. I would peek through the narrow gap between the glass windows and watch a boy, much darker in complexion than I, walking out of a worn-out building that read “Window to Asia.” When only obscure traffic lights radiated the night, the boy, alone, would walk across the utter darkness. I could not find a yellow cap or an orange bag on the boy, which would have stood out even in the unlit neighborhood.
Two years ago, I came across an article by a Vietnamese woman, who lived in Gunpo’s industrial area, about the inabilities of immigrant workers to send their kids to kindergartens. I was about to flip to the next page when I saw a name that struck me: “Window to Asia.” Could the place described here be the very place from my childhood? Could I have passed by this woman’s home? Could the kid from my memory even be her child?
That weekend, I visited the place that I had only passed by more than a decade ago. As I knocked and opened the rust-covered doorknob, I spotted a group of children who were bustling in a windowless room, with no toys or books.
“This is the best we can provide. Before we took them out, some of them spent years in a much smaller place in the factory,” said Ms. Tâm, the author of the story I read.
The smile on the faces of children eating rice crackers seemed to show they had already grown used to their situation.
Coming home, I looked into the Korean government’s support for children of immigrant workers. Most of them were excluded from free education, and subsidies for kindergartens were not geared toward the children’s development of Korean language and assimilation.
The cold-hearted nature of Korean people was another issue, as more than one-third of neighbors did not want immigrant families in their towns. And among those neighbors was a handful who were even unaware of the presence of the community so close to them.
My experience learning about the Window to Asia project inspired me to help alleviate the education gap for foreigners in my city I had unwittingly witnessed as a child.
In 2016 and 2017, I conducted campaigns around the city every week to inform Korean parents and the city council about the inadequate education and medical services that the kids in Window to Asia have experienced. When I visited local kindergartens, I invited children to write their names on stickers and attach them to posters that were designed to look like a window. Putting the little windows together, to me, it felt like the kids were putting pieces of my childhood memory together with the clarity of adulthood.
On a brilliant day in August, 2016, I brought the kids from Window to Asia to an amusement park for a picnic. For many of them, it was the first outing of their lives. Watching them running around merrily as ever, it broke my heart to say it was time to go back. On board the yellow bus I rented for a day, the boy I had seen ten years ago came across my mind again. Looking through the window outside, I prayed for his future children to be able to wear the yellow uniforms, just like the local kids do.
Before South Korea externally claims itself as a globalized nation, a host of millions of immigrants, a powerhouse with well-renowned companies, or a convener of international sporting events, its people inside should open themselves to people from other possibly less-developed countries and see how they live, for they are also a part of what makes the Korean society.
I graduated from kindergarten, and I hope everyone can.
Mingo Cho is a contributing writer. Email him at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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