Choi Ryong-hwa is a South Korean resident in Japan. Among the Korean residents in Japan, there are two kinds of people: Those who hold allegiance to South Korea and those who chose the North. Ironically, there are two nationalities in Choi Ryong-hwa"s family. The other members of her family are Chochongnyon, or members of the Pro-North Resident"s League in Japan. But South and North Korea or Japan, are not merely words one chooses out of some lexicon of political abstractions. Choi"s family actually believes that their fatherland is the whole of the Korea peninsula. For Choi, believing in a word, in a place, in an ideal could not be any tougher.
Choi was also a Chochongnyon member until last year, when she was naturalized in South Korea. "It took only 15 minutes and two papers to become a South Korean," recalls Choi. "It was so simple." Living as a Chochongnyon was not easy for Choi. Not only because she could not enter South Korea, but because of all the racial discrimination that existed inside Japan. It was also difficult to get a job. When searching for one, she found that there were jobs that a South Korean could do. But there was no work for Chochongnyon people.
Choi was naturalized in South Korea last year when she came over to Ewha as an exchange student. "Once, in Japan, we were having a debate on the unification of South and North Korea. A Korean student who came to Japan said that overseas Koreans can easily talk about unification because they have practically nothing to do with Korea,"says Choi.
So, to establish a connection with Korea and in hopes of becoming part of the unification, Choi came to Ewha. She has Korean lessons everyday, and takes lectures on North Korean Studies. "To us, overseas Koreans, unification means that we can clearly show the Japanese where we are from. That"s why it is an important matter," says Choi.
Though Choi has become a South Korean, it doesn"t mean that everything has been resolved for her. Rather, it led her to more confusion. "Every time the Japanese read my name as Reika, I corrected them. I used to think that by keeping my Korean name I was keeping my identity. But now, I"m not sure what my identity is. When the Koreans call the South their country, I feel shocked. I don"t want to belong to either side,"says Choi, with mixed emotions.
Even though she is legally a South Korean, Choi doesn"t have a family register. Because of that, she cannot have a certificate of residence, which means that she is a South Korean, but cannot become a resident. She will have to remain an overseas Korean. Moreover, most Koreans treat her as a foreigner. And because she was a Chochongnyon, usually considered as spies from the North, people look at her with suspicion. "I understand why I am treated as a stranger in Korea," says Choi. not an official Korean yet. But being treated as a foreigner is Japan sometimes makes me sad. I speak Japanese as well as they do. There is no difference between the Japanese and I. And the place I return to as my home is Japan."
Korean-Japanese Choi Ryong-hwa is a foreigner in all three countries at the moment. It is a lonely feeling to wish to belong somewhere not knowing exactly where. But she dreams of the day she can go to all three countriesSouth Korea, North Korea, and Japanthree places she could call her own.