21 year old Yoenmi Park on youtube has become a national hero or a feared political enemy depending on who you listen to. Born in 1993 in Heysan, North Korea under the oppressive regime of Kim Jong-Il, one of Yoen-mi’s earliest memories is of seeing her best friend’s mother being shot by a firing squad.
When Yoen-mi was only 9 years old, her father was arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. He had been smuggling precious metals into China as a means of keeping his family alive during a crippling famine. There, he was beaten brutally and eventually fell ill. Yeon-mi’s parents realized that if they wanted to survive, they were going to have to escape North Korea somehow.
The only way out was across the river into China and the only time this was possible was in the dead of winter when the river was frozen. Yeon-mi’s sister, Eun-mi, was chosen to go first, and Yeon-mi and her mother soon followed. Once in China, they lived in constant fear of being tracked down by authorities tasked with rooting out defectors and sending them back to North Korea. Yeon-mi’s father eventually made their way to them, but he died before making it out of China and Eun-mi became lost and was feared to be dead.
After two long years of unimaginable hardships and atrocities, Yeon-mi and her mother made it across the brutally harsh climes of the Gobi desert into Mongolia. There, they sought refuge at the South Korean embassy.
But far from sitting back and simply enjoying her newfound freedom, Yeonmi Park has taken on the arduous task of seeing her people set free of the oppression of Kim Jong-Il’s brutal regime. Her quest is aided by Western media which is spreading the message of capitalism to the young people of her country via the black market, for which the current “Black Market Generation” is named.
Yeon-mi has been asked to speak at prestigious International Events like the One Young World Summit in Dublin last fall, where her message went viral and she became the face of North Korea’s violent oppression.
At first, there seemed to be discrepancies in her story, until it was discovered that what she was trying to hide was the painful fact that she had been trafficked while in China, which filled her with deep shame. Now, however, she realizes that this is part of the story that will help shed light on the reality of just how brutal the conditions actually are in her home country. Yeon-mi is currently working on a book about her experiences and she is determined to share her story as honestly and factually as possible.
The North Korean government has made it very clear that they do not want this book written, as they have both engaged in multiple smear campaigns against Yeon-mi, as well as sending threats to the author working with her on her book.