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As North Korea reaches out to the world, Korean immigrants hopeful for North-South reconciliation

Posted at 11:53 PM, Jun 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-12 00:08:18-04

CINCINNATI -- The summit between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump is more than a collision between two of the modern world's most contentious heads of state. For millions of Koreans and people with Korean ancestry, it represents a real shot at something they've craved for decades: The reconciliation of the two Koreas. 

"To most Koreans, this is the same magnitude as the Berlin Wall coming down," Jay Kim, who moved to the United States at 28, said. "Historic is an understatement. It's something you really cannot describe."

North and South Korea are products of World War II, during which foreign powers drove Japan out of the unified country and promptly split it down the middle. Half went to each of the world's then-reigning military champions: North Korea to the Soviet Union and South Korea to the United States. 

The new countries formed their own governments, waged a brief war and grew up in the image of their one-time global custodians -- one socialist, one capitalist, both governments distrustful of one another. 

Caught amid the politicking and gunfire were millions of Koreans who learned that the boundaries of their lives had been redrawn. Some fled to allied countries to escape the war; some stayed where they had been and learned that their blood relatives were no longer their countrymen.

"Some family members had to move to China; some parts were in Russia," Mi-Sook Gwon, another Korean immigrant, said. "They never got back their hometown."

Kim Jong Un's willingness to engage with the United States gives Gwon hope that reconciliation between the two Koreas could happen within her lifetime. A total reunification is still a distant prospect, but any friendly interaction between the two governments would be a start.

"We can start with exchanging some cultural programs, some sports," Gwon suggested. "We can make the family that has been separated over 50 years get to see them at least one day a week or a month."

Both Gwon and Jay Kim acknowledged Kim Jong Un, whose life has been spent at the center of a personality cult and whose family's abuses of their people have been internationally rebuked, is unlikely to concede to any outsiders' demands without a fight.

Still, they said there was reason to be optimistic.

"It looks like things are really developing in a positive direction," Jay Kim said. "I'm really hopeful. Probably, this time, it will happen."