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March 1st Independence Movement Festival
Mar 21, 2019

        The year was 1919; the day March 1st. 100 years later and the memory remains alive within the hearts of her people. Korea was under colonial control as the Japanese empire swept through the country. With a burning desire for freedom and a passion that burned with the embers of strength, pride, and heroism, March 1st was the day they said enough. Enough to remaining silent; enough to the pain and suffering inflicted; enough to it all. They were proud, they were a people, and they would be heard.

        From the conflict a leader was born. Ryu Gwan-Sun. She was young; she was too young, but she was brave. She was 16, a student, a daughter, a sister, and a grandchild. But above all, she was a Korean. When marches took place around the country on March 1st, she was attending school in Seoul on a scholarship. Although young, the importance of the voice behind the protests were not lost on her but rather served as the flame that lit her passion on fire. From that moment on she dedicated her life to fighting for the independence of her great country and keenly understood that regardless of what might come, she had to give all she could, so one day the Korean people who celebrate in the joy of freedom from oppression.

        In order to combat and control the growing resistance of their occupation, the colonial government of Japan began placing arrests and taking lives by the hundreds. Among them, as still a young 16-year-old child, Gwan-Sun was arrested and imprisoned for her defiance to the Japanese regime. They sough to break her, to destroy the fire and spirit within her, to quiet those to looked to her as leader and symbol for their people; they wanted her to suffer in anguish and pain for the audacity of standing strong against their cruelty. But they could not break her; they could not crush her spirit; they could not penetrate within her soul and remove the love, pride, and passion she held for her beloved country. They couldn’t touch her. In anger they beat her, tortured her, and pointed to her treatment as a message and warming for all those who dare defy them. In anger they grew in hatred towards the young girl who utterly refused to be broken. She defied them and for that, they took her life.

Japan will fall...even if my fingernails are torn out, my nose and ears are ripped apart, and my legs and arms are crushed, this physical pain does not compare to the pain of losing my nation…my only remorse is not being able to do more than dedicating my life to my country.

        A symbol was born; a leader was made and on March 1st, 2019, we remembered.

        To commemorate this incredible point in Korea’s history, the city government of Choenan organized several events on the day and days leading up to March 1st. One such event was the Independence Festival held next to City Hall.

        In order to offer more than displays and attractions, the organizers sought to bring the attendees through the emotions and feelings those long ago might have felt as they marched and protested for their independence. In keeping with this order, they offered makeup stands that painted realistic wounds, interpretive dances that showcased the pain of their ancestors, and musical scores that gripped the hearts of all those present. As their forbears marched with pride and purpose, so they sought to convey that message in a way that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. The mayor offered words of wisdom and children displayed heart as they performed in honor.

        As I watched, I was moved with emotion. Although not a Korean by birth, my place of residence for some years has been here and to the best of my ability, I purposed to understand the hearts of those present. I wanted to know why it was so important to them to celebrate this day, and I wanted to make sure that when I came to that realization, I would never forget how it felt. So here is a call to all of us: let us not soon forget. As sojourners, we are blessed to live in a country with such a deep and strong history of self-pride and preservation; we are blessed to experience with them the pain and suffering of their past, and we are blessed to embrace the joy of being freed from it all. Let us learn from that and always remember the life of the young leader Ryu Gwan-Sun.

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