Last Tuesday, Assemblyman Ron Kim, State Senator John Liu and members of the Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY) gathered on the steps of Flushing Town Hall to announce a resolution honoring Yu Gwan-sun.
“This is the first step to acknowledge the human rights activism, the bravery, perseverance, resilience, grit and tenacity of a young woman,” Kim said. “This is someone that should be studied in every single nation around the world.”
Gwan-sun was a 17-year-old leader in the Korean independence movement against Japanese rule. She helped organize the March 1st Movement, a massive peaceful demonstration on March 1, 1919, that kicked off the push for liberation.
Her family went door-to-door to encourage people to take part in the protest. The organizers even reached residents in neighboring towns, resulting in a 3,000-person demonstration at Aunae Marketplace.
Later that day, Japanese military officers arrived and killed 19 protesters, including her parents. Gwan-sun was arrested and then tortured to reveal information about other demonstrators.
Following a year in prison, Gwan-sun organized fellow inmates to honor the first anniversary of the March 1st protest. She died in September 1920 from her injuries.
“Even if my fingernails are torn out, my nose and ears are ripped away and my legs and arms are crushed, this physical pain does not compare to pain of losing my nation,” she wrote before her death. “My only remorse is not being able to do more than dedicating my life to my country.”
Kim said Gwan-sun’s story represents the “spirit of the Korean people.” He tied that resilience to the ethos of immigrants.
“No matter how hard things get, we don’t give up,” he said. “We persist and resist and keep going.”
The Korean-American assemblyman added that young people everywhere can learn from Gwan-sun’s journey and character.
“It’s something that we should embrace,” Kim said. “All of us can learn a lesson from that.”
Liu said 100 years after the March 1st Movement, communities are still telling her story of heroism and love of country.
The state senator said he expects to pass the resolution this week.
“This resolution is not only meaningful for Korean-Americans, but meaningful for all New Yorkers who don’t yet know about the epic tale of Yu Gwan-sun to be inspired by what she has done,” he said.