Dongpo: Korean Education and Exposure Program
By Dae-Han Song (Chief Editor, The [su:p])
Dongpo is the Korean for compatriot. It is derived from the Chinese character “dong” for same and “po” for womb. Combined its literal meaning is “of the same womb.” The term differs from the common second generation Korean diaspora label gyopo which contains “po”, but uses “gyo” to highlight “abroad,” “overseas.” On Nov. 10, the International Strategy Center met with delegates of the Korean Education and Exposure Program. For twenty-three years, the program has immersed Korean diaspora into Korea’s social movements and struggles on a nearly two week trip. Adoptees, multiracial, Korean-born, he, she, they, 1.5, 2nd generation - a broad and diverse swath of Korea’s diaspora was back to share and to fight alongside Korea’s social movements. We, the International Strategy Center, had the great pleasure of coordinating site visits (including our own) and post-program trips.
The first site visit we coordinated was with the Korean Women Peasants Association (KWPA). The general secretary, food sovereignty chair, the director secretary, and the chair of organizing were present. They shared about the struggles of farmers under Korea’s free trade agreements and their fight for women’s rights within rural patriarchy. Many of us were moved by their stories of struggle and personal transformation to liberate women farmers and achieve food sovereignty.
Our own site visit included an icebreaker acquainting people with each other. Participants shared keywords describing themselves. Then, we had a presentation of the ISC’s work. Afterwards, KEEP delegates presented and discussed the social movement response against U.S. President Donald Trump. While U.S. social movements were yet to come together into a concerted effort against Trump, the growing anti-Trump sentiment had resulted in some unexpected but welcome victories during the local elections for transgender, and non-white ethnic groups.
Though officially after KEEP, the ISC’s Hwang Jeong-eun took a few KEEP delegates involved in weekend farming in the U.S. to explore food sovereignty on the field. The first day involved attending the Mullae Urban Garden Plot’s Harvest festival in the middle of Seoul where, as festival participants, delegates harvested Napa cabbage and made kimchi. The festival was followed by a meeting with Jeong Jae-min a key organizer and founder of the urban garden. The next day, KEEP participants exited Seoul and visited a local indigenous seed bank in Nonsan. A recently re-established women peasants group affiliated with the KWPA welcomed them and took them on a tour of their native seeds bank.
The following week, I took one of the delegates to the Wednesday protest by the Sexual Slaves of the Japanese military, followed by a visit to the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, and the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum. The trip covered not simply the atrocities of the Japanese colonial period and Koreans that collaborated with them but also those that resisted and were still resisting colonialism and the legacies of colonialism, in particular the grandmothers that now in their 80s and 90s had survived Japanese sexual slavery and were fighting for a formal apology from Japan.
Much later after the trip, talking with one of the coordinators, I was struck by how KEEP members had grappled with nationalism. How a nation may bring people together but also delineate those that belong and those that do not. It made me reflect the nationalist strains in my beliefs. What does it mean to fight imperialism and colonialism while creating an expansive and inclusive nation based on solidarity? What does being “of the same womb” mean?
Though the answer will undoubtedly be formulated through a lifetime of theory and practice, it’s clear that joint struggle based on solidarity is at the heart of being “of the same womb.”