(a special "thanks" to Robin Manning, a personal friend and a fellow on my upcoming Korea trip, who shared this article in our traveling team's Facebook group)
By the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, approximately 85,000 Koreans were already living in eastern Russia. Such immigration had been encouraged so as to help populate and develop this region; an encouragement initially continued by the new Soviet regime. The thriving Korean community submitted an application for an autonomous region, similar to what had recently been granted to a Jewish community, but were denied. Due to suspicions of disloyalty, the Soviets created a plan to relocate this Korean population; by 1937 100,000 had been deported to Kazakhstan and another 74,000 were deported to Uzbekistan. With no food/shelter provided, thousands died in the extremely cold weather in the first three years of relocation. During World War II, arguing that they were really Japanese spies, many Koreans were forced into hard labor in mines and factories. Additionally, all forms of traditional Korean cultural, linguistic, and religious expression were forbidden. In the 1950s, Nikita Khrushchev allowed the Koreans to migrate at will within the Soviet Union. While many remained in central Asia, most migrated to urban areas; more than 80% of ethnic Koreans in Russia today live in cities. During this new policy of openness Koreans once again began to economically and culturally thrive. While most of the decedents of the initial Korean deportees are assimilated into Russia culture, there is still a strong resentment to the Soviet policies.
Today, two of the most well-known Russian Koreans are musicians who have made a name for themselves as the anti-establishment voices of their respective generations.
Yulyi Kim, his father was executed in 1937 as "an enemy of the people".
The judge at one with the prosecutor
Don't give a damn about detailed analysis,
All they need is to cover by talking
Their ready-made conviction.
Viktor Tsoi, paternal grandparents were original deportees
Changes! -- our hearts demand.
Changes! -- our eyes demand.
In our laughter and in our tears,
And in the pulsation of our veins:
"Changes! We wait for changes!"
Much of this deportation story makes me reflect upon a part of the larger American story, especially it's specific connection to the story of my home state of Oklahoma: Indian Removal. While the title "Trail of Tears" originated in the experience of the Cherokee Nation's forced removal to Indian Territory it is often used as the identifier of the larger story of relocation for all of the Southeastern tribes and is closely connection to the post-Civil War relocation of numerous other tribes, especially those of the Great Plains. Even with almost two centuries having passed since this initial round of forced relation, the pain and bitterness which is felt by decedents is just as strong as the that which is expressed by the two decedents noted here of the Korean relocation in the Soviet Union.
For me and the focus of "Global Education" which I place in my classroom, I see this story as another way to make historic and cultural connections between the stories of the "here" and the "there". While there are so many differences between the peoples of this great planet there are also a whole host of connections which truly link us into a more significant sense of community and unity than we often wish to admit.