Aug. 3rd, 2009

  • 8:01 PM
la_vie_noire: (Utena transformation)
Gorgeous post by [personal profile] ciderpress, A Soliloquy on Language and Race in Seven Parts

[...]My cousin was, and still is, a primary school teacher. She spent her days teaching seven year olds how to read, read, add and subtract and behave themselves in public. In the evenings, she taught an adult literacy class. The class was small -- adult literacy rates in Korea were about 98% -- but mostly made up of women in the 60s and 70s. And there, I saw a woman, with eyes that had seen a thousand years, cry with joy because she could finally write her own name.

The reason many of these women couldn't read wasn't just because of sexism and classism. The reason the literacy rate in Korea is so high isn't because Koreans are obsessed with education and doing well in tests. Instead, they stem partly from Korea's experience in the intense wave of New Imperialism wherein Western countries and Japan fought as well as colluded to share ownership of countries in East Asia.

The reason that these women couldn't read was that they were born in the early '30s and they were, in their formative years, directly affected the Japanese colonial policies and the attempt at cultural genocide and eradication of national identity during the latter part of the occupation period. These policies, which included the prohibition of teaching and usage of Korean in schools, rewriting history books to justify the occupation and forcibly changing Korean names to Japanese ones. Many young women, and children, during the Japanese occupation became the workforce as Korean men were forcibly conscripted to the Japanese imperial army to fight against allied forces in China. Many young women, after independence in '45, then went on to bear the brunt of the Korean war; they were of the hundreds of thousands displaced and living in refugee camps as the war raged on with Soviet sponsored North Korea and China driving the South Korean and American/allied forces up and down the peninsula, signalling the beginning of the 30 year Cold War between the Soviet block and the USA. And then after the destruction that left the Koreas economically ruined, their resources destroyed and a people and country still at war, these men and women were the ones who had to rebuild the country.

Then again, the narrative of Imperialism in the Korean penisula is not why I began to tell this story. I'm telling this story because telling those who are reading this the story of one little old lady, who had survived her own language and identity torn from her heart and survived being separated from her family and her home as she fled to the south as a teenager, is my way of continuing her oral history. She knew the importance and preciousness of language because it was stolen from her. It was only really then that I began to realise with an adult perspective why it was so important for me to participate, why it was so important for me to be able to participate in this kind of national, cultural, global narrative. This woman, whose story does not appear in the narrative of Western modern history, which concentrates on US lives lost in the Korean war, the liberation they brought to Korea, lives in her, all those who know her and in me.


Colonialism was state sponsored, religion endorsed, culturally approved corporate theft of native resources, labour and even people. Many white people thought that white men were doing the savages a favour, bringing culture, Jesus and the age of enlightenment. To control a country, you must control the people, paralyse collective responses and destroy national identities or empty them of socio-economic content. Colonialists actively sought to rupture the solidarity of communities. Taking away their language, an integral part of their identity, and enforcing your own and taking control words and how to use them colonises consciousness. These languages and these cultures are then treated as savage while European languages and culture are civilised. Sometimes, as a result, languages died.

This touched me deep as a Paraguayan.

I can't re-post the whole post here. But it's worth it. So go read!


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[personal profile] la_vie_noire

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