Colorado Springs residents celebrate Korean independence
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Hayle Nguyen, center, readies to strike while warming up with Jene Yu for a Taekwondo demonstration Saturday, August 8, 2015 at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of Korean independence. The Korean American Society of Southern Colorado hosted the event in Memorial Park. The actual anniversary of Korea’s independence is August 15. The taekwondo demonstration was put on by students from Apex Taekwondo of Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

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As the 74th anniversary of Korean National Liberation Day approaches, hundreds of people gathered in Memorial Park on Saturday morning to commemorate the day their home country was freed from colonial Japanese rule.

Celebrated on Aug. 15, Korean National Liberation Day marks an important date in Japanese and Korean history. After decades of Japanese rule, the Korean peninsula was liberated on Aug. 15, 1945. Three years later on the same day, the nation’s government was established. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, prompting the United States to enter into the Korean War as allies of the South.

For 69-year-old Yunghee Kim, who attended Saturday’s celebration, the memory of her parents’ experience throughout their country’s turbulent time is bittersweet.

“The wars were vicious,” Kim said. “(The Japanese) used Koreans for free labor ... it’s sort of very painful but that was 75 years ago, so I want to set that aside. We can go forward.”

Sun Kook, who organized this year’s event as president of the Korean American Society of Southern Colorado, said that up to 1,000 people were expected throughout the day for the festival. The event featured traditional Korean folk dancers, opera singers and taekwondo performances.

“We like to show (people) the Korean culture,” Kook said.

The Liberation Day celebration helps remind Kim of what she’s proud of in her culture, she said. In particular, Kim said she’s proud of her culture’s work ethic and their commitment to the community.

“I am very proud (of the community),” she said. “They work very hard.”

Kim came to Colorado Springs in 1990 and worked as a victims advocate in the city for the Asian Pacific Development Center. Today, she is the president of the Korean Senior Group in Colorado Springs.

“America has beautiful grass land, big space and many possibilities,” she said with a smile. “If you work hard, you can get anything.”

Although many compare Korea’s Liberation Day to the United States’ Independence Day, the difference could not be more stark. The holiday is also called “Gwangbokjeol” which roughly translates to “bringing back the light.” While American independence was gained by breaking away from its mother country, Korean independence was regained.

“The young people do not understand (the history),” Kim said. Through the generations, the gravity of what people like Kim’s parents went through has been softened, she said.

After the devastation of the Korean War in the 1950s, South Korea was considered a Third World country. Just decades later, the country raised itself out of poverty, and ranks 11th in the world for GDP in 2019.

“It’s a painful memory (for many),” Kim said. “But we’ve become stronger.”

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Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist with a specific interest in environment and outdoor recreation. She watches way too much Star Trek and is working toward her rescue scuba divers certification. Liz joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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