When my history teacher assigned his classes the Ethnicity Project, an assignment that would allow students to learn about their culture’s history and their family’s past, everyone groaned. Aside from having to adjust to the rigorous expectations of high school, we freshman would now have another daunting assignment burdening us.
However, I now thank my history teacher for assigning this project. Through this assignment, I was able to research one significant event of the Korean history, the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and its effects on Korea as a whole and on my family personally.
The Gwangju Uprising of 1980 was a rebellion that started with students of Chonnam University, who were willing to fight for the democratization of South Korea. It lasted from May 18 to May 27, as students led protest marches, civil disobedience, and even resorted to armed uprisings by obtaining weapons. Other citizens began joining this pro-democracy movement, but things went horribly wrong when troops used tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets to put down the uprising. Ultimately, some say there were over 200 civilian casualties, but as the Korean Research Center claims, “The Gwangju massacre became an important landmark in the struggle for South Korean democracy.”
The Gwangju massacre brought much despair: along with many fatalities, democracy still had not been achieved, and the nation was far from being just. However, even though the cloud of hopelessness miserably hung over the nation, a sliver of light did shine through. The event brought together countless people, giving birth to a sense of community, something which South Korea had not experienced or seen before.
was the first time in Korean history that people shared instead of trading; communal meals for protestors were passed out, motor vehicles were shared, and a new distribution system that depended on neither state nor capital was created. Blood donation campaigns were also conducted for Gwangju citizens; and 15,000 people attended a memorial service for those killed on May 24.
Furthermore, this event reached out nationally when a protest at the American Red Cross exposed the massacre in the US and spurred a Koreatown protest for Korea’s democracy. This allowed Koreans from the other side of the world to become connected to those being directly affected by the massacre.
The Gwangju Uprising even managed to affect the way my family lives. We deeply and sincerely believe in the power of community and always live by the mantra of helping others in need, no matter the circumstances. My father, Daniel Mo stated, “I want my children to grow up knowing three things. The history of events that weren’t always pleasant but allowed South Korea to come so far, the significance of those events, and how they changed the nation’s culture and identity and how those events changed our family’s culture.”
South Korea has come a long way through the course of history and has endured through a not-so-pleasant trail of events. However, those happenings are what made South Korea what it is today and what allowed our culture to thrive in the manner it has. Through the Ethnicity Project, I learned about how certain events, although bitterly salted through the soil of Korea’s history, has affected and potentially even changed the way we Koreans live and lead our lives.
Sabrina Mo, Grade 9
North Hollywood Highly Gifted Magnet High School