"This old grandma has a dream too. My dream is to step on the grounds of my hometown one more time. When Korea is unified once again, I really want to go back to my hometown."
Such were the words shared by Hee-Bok Kim, an elderly woman in her nineties whose family was divided during the Korean War. Kim was one of six panelists at a session about divided Korean families during the Korean American Coalition (KAC)'s recent national convention which took place on Saturday at the University of Southern California. Kim's hometown is Pyongyang, but moved to Seoul after she got married, when "all of a sudden, the war broke out on June 25," she said. All of her family remained in North Korea.
In 1988, Kim moved to the U.S. with hopes to see her family again, after hearing that it was easier to visit the North with a visa from America. And after three years of processing documents, she visited the North in 1991.
"When I finally got there, I found out that all of my family, my parents, my siblings, had all passed away," she recalled. "I just wept there, and came back."
Though dwindling in number, individuals like Hee-Bok Kim are still alive today and many await to reunite with their families, said the panelists during the session. The panelists urged the 100-some members of the audience to engage with their respective Congressmen and the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives to encourage them to pass House Concurrent Resolution 40 (HR40), a resolution authored by Congressmen Charles Rangel and Ed Royce to actively encourage North Korea to allow reunions of divided Korean American families due to the Korean War, and to call on North Korea "to take concrete steps to build goodwill that is conducive to peace on the Korean Peninsula."
The resolution text notes that "the number of more than 100,000 estimated divided family members in the United States last identified in 2001 has been significantly dwindling as many of them have passed away," and adds that "many Korean Americans are waiting for a chance to meet their relatives in North Korea for the first time in more than 60 years."
"Time is zeroing in on us," said Chahee Lee Stanfield, the founder of the National Coalition on the Divided Families, whose family was also divided during the Korean War. "We need your help. We need to get our message across."
"Together, we can make a change. This is the dying wish for many people," implored Jeane Noh of the Divided Families USA team. "There are still people alive, and this could be a reality for them if we act quickly."
Noh said that increasing numbers on the organization's listserv, as well as registering more members of the community who are separated from their family members in North Korea, will help to increase legitimacy in pushing for legislation in favor of reuniting divided families.
A similar concurrent resolution was introduced in the House in March of 2014 (HR91), but no action was taken after April of 2014. HR 40 was introduced in April of 2015 and has 65 co-sponsors.
Meanwhile, the KAC National Convention featured other sessions mostly focusing on Korean American representation and involvement in various career fields, including in politics, entertainment, entrepreneurship, finance, and law, among others.