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(코리아타운뉴스) The Unremembered Commemoration

Tracing Korean-American immigration: Reedley

They funded Korean independence as farmers
None of their names are remembered in history

This is the same street they walked every day. Inside the bus that was bound for Reedley, Calif., the nature on display through the window seemed endless. For the Korean-American ancestors, this beautiful scenery may have struck fear into them.

To commemorate the 114th year anniversary of Korean-American immigration, the KNA Memorial Foundation (KNAMF) held an event to take today’s Korean-Americans to Reedley, where their history first started more than a century ago. Approximately 100 Korean-Americans—from a young high school student to a grey-haired elderly man.

It is a bit more than a three-hour bus ride from Los Angeles to Reedley, making the duration of the roundtrip itself about seven hours.
“I knew nothing about Korean independent activists who lived in the U.S.,” said one woman on the bus, who appeared to be in her 50s. “I wanted to take this chance to learn at least a little about our own history.”



# Those who died while mourning for their motherland
The travel guide held a microphone as the bus took off. He explained the history behind Reedley and Dinuba.

Korean immigrants in the U.S. first arrived in the country in 1905. Reedley and Dinuba are two cities in which the pioneering community organizations, such as the KNAMF and Korean Women's Relief Society, remained active during the 1920s. At the time, Central California was widely known for its production of various fruits. That led to some Korean immigrants working in Hawaii’s sugar plantation to make their way to the mainland for a better life.

Immigrants from Korea in this particular area emerged to something of a prominence as Kim Brothers, a Korean-American business established by Ho Kim and Hyung-soon Kim began to grow. Kim Brothers contributed greatly to the independent movement of Koreans in Central California, as they were fighting against the Japanese occupation of their home country.

By working in the farmland, the forefathers of Korean-American immigrants funded the independent movement back home. They reportedly contributed all of their income that remained after paying for their basic living costs.

It is not as if those ancestors had enough money on their own, but they were still making efforts to fund a movement that later helped to free their home country. Regardless, their names are often overlooked by history. Eventually, they died while mourning for their country. As I looked outside the window on the way to Reedley, there was a dead cat in the corner of the road, seemingly after getting hit by a car. An abandoned death.


# Small in size doesn’t mean small in aspirations
The first destination after arriving was the Korean immigration memorial. It was not big in size, but the energy stemming from the small property was evident. The limited number of Korean immigrants directly translated the aspirations of a freed Korea into their lives in Central California. Small in size does not mean dreams are also small.

In front of the door of independence, 10 memorials stood to represent the pioneering Korean patriots. The memorials were erected in November 2010. The 650-yard space in Reedley designated by the city government is where the Korean-American forefathers first lived after arriving in the city. It has been reported that about 500 Koreans resided in the area. Of those, around 350 participated in the march on March 1, 1920 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the famous March 1st Movement in South Korea.


# The cemetery that no one visits
After lunchtime, we moved onto the Korean immigrants’ cemetery. The park was designed by Kim Brothers, who bid their farewell to the first generation immigrants. Their graveyard is still in the same place to this day. It is the only remaining evidence of the Korean-American ancestors.

A boy who made the trip paused in front of a tombstone. “Dad, this man died even before he turned 20,” he said.
Virtually no one visits the graveyard throughout the year. Only two times in a year—Memorial Day and Korean Independence Day—former South Korean marines in Central California commemorate their lives. During the remaining 363 days in a year, their lives are essentially unremembered. That is the brutal reality of the ancestors who died while working as farmers to fund their country’s independence.


# Just as when they pursued rebellion
We then visited Hotel Burgess, where the likes of Ahn Chang-ho and Rhee Syng-man had apparently frequented. Hotel Burgess is where they usually gathered with other Korean immigrants to hold meetings and discussions to strategize their independent activism. On the left side of the entrance to the hotel, the writing red, “In Memory of the two Korean patriots’ stay at this hotel.”

The hotel seemed old, but still vintage. The hallway featured a photo of Ahn and Rhee, their travel bags and other belongings that we often see in old films.


# The lonely monument that remain unremembered
Our last destination was the monument to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the March 1st movement that was held in Dinuba in 1920. That is where 350 Korean-Americans gathered to celebrate the anniversary of a historic movement that later contributed to the Korean independence.

Today, all of this remains as unremembered history. On our way back to L.A., it almost seemed as if the lonely souls of those who deceased in Central California were still lingering on those streets.


By Jiyoon Kim, Jaera Kim



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