Category Archives: Korea Times column

2016-12-19 Time and a Dime (Korea Times column)

Time and a Dime
The Korea Times
Dec 19, 2016
by Casey Lartigue Jr.

It is often noted that South Korea and Ghana had similar GDP levels per capita in 1960, but since then Korea has flourished while Ghana has floundered. Despite the economic gap, they remain twins in one way: charitable giving. In the 2016 World Giving Index, Ghana is ranked 77th out of 140 countries. South Korea is 75th.

Earlier this year, an influential South Korean had explained, like a judge reading a lengthy guilty verdict, why my organization would struggle with raising money in South Korea. First, South Koreans don’t give to charity.

The Korea-based “Helping and Share” consulting group reported that 52 percent of South Korean families donate to charity (compared to 86 percent of U.S. families). U.S. families on average donate 3.1 percent of the family budget to charity (South Koreans donate 0.35 percent of the family budget to charity). Only 3 percent of South Korean adults volunteer, much lower than Europeans (Norway, 52 percent, U.K. 30 percent, Sweden 28 percent, Netherlands 16 percent, Finland 8 percent) according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.

Second, the South Korean government and its authorized chaebol-like agencies are a barrier. They suck oxygen out of the room by being the major source of funding for civil society and government requirements suffocate fledgling organizations.

Organizations in the government’s bottom-level NGO category (voluntary associations) can’t hire staff and are ineligible to receive tax-deductible donations, slowing their development and discouraging donations. It took some time for me to catch on that possible supporters weren’t seriously considering us because of our bottom-level status. To get to a higher level, our volunteer-run association could no longer operate out of the now defunct Freedom Factory Co. we had to scrap together a $10,000 deposit for an independent office, pay monthly rent, have enough money in the bank, have patience in dealing with a mountain of paperwork, among many things.

In July, we passed the government’s inspection, but we still hadn’t reached the promised land. My Korean co-director had already learned we had to wait until July 2017 to apply to be eligible to offer tax deductions on donations, meaning our fundraising potential remained restricted (I keep asking her to confirm this).

Third, what about company donations? My skeptical adviser mentioned that Korean companies engaging in CSR have a history of the government directing donations. Add national pride to that, and it equals Korean companies seeking to feed hungry children abroad to highlight Korea’s transformation from aid recipient to aid donor (helping Ghana is the ultimate dream).

Then he closed his case, figuratively pointing at the guilty defendant: “And you’re a foreigner. Koreans think you will steal the money they donate and run away to America.” He advised me not to be publicly visible. If I were an entertainer, athlete or businessman, no problem. I was expecting him to advise me to resign, for the good of the organization.

Recognizing our weaknesses in South Korean society, I returned to a previous strategy I had considered: Build a community around North Korean refugees by having volunteers raise money.

Our volunteers agreed in theory, but not in practice. I couldn’t blame them, knowing they give so much time volunteering to help North Korean refugees. One volunteer unaware of our challenges indignantly informed me that it was either/or: “Give a dime or give your time.” Others warned that I would destroy the organization by asking volunteers to raise money.

Last week, I announced the new policy requiring all volunteers to try fundraising. Within a few days, we already had enough volunteers sign up under the new policy. It helps that several applicants have NGO experience and that volunteers who had personally donated publicly supported the policy change. Combining offline activities with online crowdsourcing, volunteers can give their time and raise dimes to help organizations in Korea expand.

Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” we had to click our heels to get to our destination. We had wandered around seeking funders in a system not meant for startup NGOs lacking political or business connections, then realized our community of international volunteers has untapped potential. Most importantly, refugees will benefit from volunteers with “skin-in-the-game” feeling more connected after they have helped support the organization expand.

At a recent session with tutors, a North Korean refugee who had been on our waiting list dramatically informed us that she had attempted suicide three years ago. Looking at our “beautiful” volunteers eager to help her, she was so happy she hadn’t killed herself. As she was leaving, freshly connected with five new tutors eager to help her learn English, she insisted on donating 100,000 won. She said it was amazing that foreigners are helping North Korean refugees, even saving lives by giving them hope. She didn’t seem to be worried that I might run away to America with her donation.

Casey Lartigue Jr. is the co-founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) in Seoul. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.

From Hwang Solo to Team Hwang

From Hwang Solo to Team Hwang

On December 11, 1969, a North Korean agent hijacked domestic flight Korean Air NAMC YS-11 from Gangwon to Gimpo just 10 minutes after take-off at 12:25 pm. All 50 people on board (46 passengers and 4 crew members) were abducted by North Korea.

ys 11

2016-06-14_22-28-38_zpsrmfou3dz

The North Korean government eventually released 39 people, but held the other 11. One of those kidnapped is Hwang Won, then a producer with MBC. For about 15 years, his son, Hwang In-Cheol, has been asking the North Korean regime to return his father, doing a balancing act of raising awareness and pressure, without unnecessarily provoking the regime, and keeping it a non-political purely humanitarian effort.

11
It is not often that we get to collaborate with people who are connected to historical events, but on March 20 of this year, I met In-Cheol at the International Volunteers Workshop. An organization I founded with my South Korean partner, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), is an NGO focusing on North Korean refugees, but we also allow South Koreans in as learners if they help North Korean refugees or can demonstrate a special relationship with North Korea. We invited In-Cheol to join TNKR as a student studying with volunteer English tutors so he can prepare to share his message in English and to join our special project addressing North Korean related issues so he could build a team of volunteers to help him with his cause.

2
For 15 years, In-Cheol has been holding one-man demonstrations, occasionally working with international and domestic NGOs and governments in his attempt to have his father returned from North Korea. He hit a low point when he lost money, and has had family members try to convince him to give up.

He has refused to let the father he barely knew be forgotten by the world. On June 17, he led a rally at Imjingak’s Freedom Bridge (near the DMZ) along with 15 volunteers from TNKR and family members.

sbs

Based on pure numbers, the rally would be considered a failure, with only 15 of us participating. To In-Cheol, after doing this on his own for 15 years, it looked like an army a million-strong had joined him. So many people talk about saving the world, but they can’t even help one individual. Many don’t realize that their presence at events and small donations can help a cause and lift the spirits of those involved.

1

The most unlikely attendee at the rally: Cecilia. She was just a few months old and her brother In-Cheol was two years old when their father was taken from them by North Korea. She says that she had given up, trying for years to convince her brother and mother to move on with their lives. She now lives in the UK, she returned to South Korea last week to see their ailing mother, to observe the rally, and to see if she could really trust the people who have joined her brother’s cause.

IMG_5717

On April 13, when we started collaborating with her brother, I posted a photo on Facebook. She was shocked: Her brother had a big grin on his face. She informed me a few days ago that she had not seen him smile in years, that she had hated seeing photos from his one-man demonstrations. Over the last few months, she has seen volunteers from Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, France, the USA and even North Korea join him, in happy group photos as we planned the rally and other activities.

13010620_801289503348380_9185978315233079822_n

At the June 17 rally, when I met Cecilia for the first time, she told me that it felt like a dream. I pinched one of our interns, then said, “Nope, this is not a dream.” She thanked us for giving a voice to him. She admits that she had tried to hide from the kidnapping. With a team of international volunteers, she said, “I feel like I have hands, arms, legs, a voice. The little weak girl could stand up.”

The news media occasionally stumbles upon their story, driving by to take snapshots, then driving on to the next story and rarely looking back. The family has been in pain for 47 years, marking anniversaries and living successes and failures without Hwang Won.

The biggest compliment Cecilia gave to me as we talked a few days after the rally: “You are the person who makes invisible people visible. You listen to people, find out what they need, and try to find people who can help them so their voices can be heard. I finally feel that I have the power for my voice to be heard.”

13501701_842859992524664_5575289154674131535_n

We hope we can continue to make their voices heard, that others will sign the online petition and join us this December to mark the 47th anniversary of KAL NAMC YS-11 being hijacked on December 11, 1969.

Hwang baby

Casey Lartigue Jr. is the co-founder of Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) in Seoul. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.

 

Texte en anglais traduit par Elodie Thiriez

2016-11-30 Declare victory, then go home

Members of Hwang In-Cheol’s #BringMyFatherHome team have been discussing ways to get more people interested in his campaign. They are all so hopeful and optimistic. I’m the cynical one. In my experience, people don’t really give a damn/pay attention until it is related to 1) themselves 2) celebrities 3) politicians 4) puppies (or kittens) 5) oddball stuff.

I suggested that we give up. Instead, let’s just head out to an anti-Park Geun Hye rally, hold up some #BringMyFatherHome signs, take some nice photos, declare victory, then go home.

* * *

I have talked to many South Koreans about Hwang In-Cheol’s effort to have his father returned from North Korea. First, many struggle with the fact that they didn’t know about the case, but I’m deeply involved in it. 2) Then they want to question why I’m involved. Finally, after they get over their confusion, we can talk about it.

As I look at Koreans gathering in the streets in bitterly cold weather to protest Park Geun-hye, I recall some of the explanations I have heard from Koreans about why Koreans aren’t interested in Mr. Hwang’s case:

  • “Koreans don’t care about politics.”
  • “Koreans are too busy to get involved in things outside of their families.”
  • “These days, Koreans are afraid to get involved in politics.”
  • “It’s too hot (or cold, or warm, or sunny, or cloudy, etc.) for Koreans to join an event about that.

Then I look again at pictures of Koreans protesting in the streets in the bitter cold to protest Park Geun-hye.

Yes, definitely, at our next planning meeting, I will push to join the next anti-Park Geun-hye rally.

park-geun-hye

  • * * *

#BringMyFatherHome Talk-Show Concert

Talk-Show Concert: #BringMyFatherHome

2016-11-30 “Is Donald Trump a Racist?”

Korea Times Roundtable Discussion

Casey Lartigue: “Is Donald Trump a racist?”
http://tinyurl.com/hgxqghb (Korea Times link)
is-donald-trump-a-racist-casey-lartigue
casey-lartigue-is-donald-trump-a-racist (PDF)

Michael Breen: “Me and My Liberal Tribe”
http://tinyurl.com/j3pzlgy

Donald Kirk: “Media mix facts with views” by Donald Kirk
http://tinyurl.com/zftps6e

Oh Young-jin: “How to make Trump great president”
http://tinyurl.com/jgyvrre

roundtable650
Three Korea Times columnists speak on the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in a roundtable hosted by Chief Editorial Writer Oh Young-jin, third from left, at the Times conference room, last week. From left are Michael Breen, Don Kirk, Oh and Casey Lartigue Jr. Oh’s column, titled “How to make Trump a great president,” was previewed online and will be published in Thursday’s edition of the newspaper. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

img_53511

img_53521

나홀로 걷던 길, 이제 동료들과 함께

나홀로 걷던 , 이제 동료들과 함께

케이시 라티그 주니어
1969년 12월 11일, 강릉발 김포행 대한항공 국내선 NAMC YS-11기가 북한공작원에 의해 하이재킹 당했다. 당일 오후 12시25분, 이륙한지 10분만의 일이었다. 승객 46명과 승무원 4명을 포함한 총 50명의 한국인들은 그렇게 북한으로 납치되었다.

ys 11

2016-06-14_22-28-38_zpsrmfou3dz

북한 당국은 납북피해자 중 승객 39명은 한국으로 송환하였으나, 나머지 11명은 억류했다. 납북 당시 문화방송(현MBC) 프로듀서였던 황원씨도 돌아오지 못한 11명 중 하나다. 그리고 지난 15년간, 황원씨의 아들 황인철씨는 북한 당국에 아버지를 돌려달라고 청원해 왔다. 최대한 북한을 도발하지 않으면서, 정치적인 문제가 아닌 순수한 인도주의적인 측면에서 아버지의 납북 사건에 대한 인식 제고와 해결 촉구 노력을 균형 있게 진행해 온 그였다

11

.
중대한 역사적 사건의 당사자와 함께 일할 수 있는 기회는 쉽게 찾아오지 않는다. 올해 3월 20일, 나는 인철씨를 국제 자원봉사자 워크숍에서 처음 만나게 되었다. 한국인 동료와 내가 공동 창설한 TNKR(Teach North Korean Refugees: 탈북민에게 영어 가르치기)은 본래 탈북민들의 영어 실력 향상에 집중하는 비영리기구지만, 탈북민을 돕는 한국인이나 북한과 특수한 관계가 있는 사람에게도 TNKR 영어수업의 문을 열고 있다. 그래서 우리는 TNKR에서 자원봉사 원어민 강사들과 함께 영어를 공부할 학생으로서 인철씨를 초대했다. 향후 국제적으로 그의 메시지를 전달할 때 자유롭게 영어를 쓸 수 있도록, 그리고 북한 관련 이슈를 해결하는 특별 프로젝트에 참여하길 권했다. 그가 목표를 이루는 데 도움을 줄 자원봉사자 팀을 구성하기 위함이었다.

2

지난 15년 동안, 인철씨는 홀로 1인시위를 하고 국내외의 비영리기구 및 정부 등과 협의하여 아버지의 송환을 위해 노력했다. 이 모든 것을 그는 사재를 털어 진행해 왔다. 금전적인 문제가 발생하자 가족들은 그에게 포기할 것을 권했고, 이 때가 그에게는 가장 힘들었다고 한다.

그러나 그는 포기하지 않았다. 기억조차 잘 안 나는 자신의 아버지. 이 세상마저 그를 잊어서는 안될 일이었다. 그리고 올해 6월17일, 황인철씨는 자신의 가족 및 TNKR 자원봉사자를 포함한 15명의 사람들과 함께 임진각 자유의 다리에서 아버지의 송환을 호소하는 집회를 가졌다.

sbs
수적으로만 본다면 이 집회는 그다지 큰 성과가 아니었다. 15명만이 참여한 소규모 집회였기 때문이다. 그러나 지난 15년간 홀로 분투해 온 황인철씨에게는 이 15명이 마치 천군만마와 같았다. 오늘날 많은 사람들이 세상을 구하는 것에 대해서 이야기 하지만, 단 한 명의 사람을 구하는 것도 어려운 상황이다. 단순히 집회에 참석해주고 소액을 기부하는 그 작은 마음 하나 하나가 목표를 달성하는 데 얼마나 큰 힘이 되는지, 다들 잘 모르는 것 같다.

1
이번 집회에 참석자 중 가장 의외였던 이는 인철씨의 여동생 세실리아였다. 아버지 납북 당시 오빠 황인철씨가 2살이었고, 그녀는 태어난지 수 개월이 채 안된 어린 아기였다. 세실리아는 아버지를 되찾는 것을 포기했었고, 남은 가족이라도 그들의 삶을 살자고 오빠와 어머니를 설득해왔다고 이야기했다. 현재 영국에 거주하고 있는 세실리아는 지난 주 아프신 어머니를 보기 위해 한국으로 돌아왔다. 그리고 이번 집회에 참여해 오빠 곁에 있는 사람들이 정말로 믿을만한 사람들인지 확인할 셈이었다.

IMG_5717

4월13일, 우리가 처음 인철씨와 본격적으로 협력을 시작했을 때 함께 찍은 사진 한 장이 있다. 페이스북에 올린 그 사진을 보고, 세실리아는 충격을 받았다고 말했다. 오빠가 만면에 환한 미소를 띠고 있었기 때문이다. 수년동안 오빠가 그렇게 환하게 웃는 모습을 본적이 없다고 했다. 오빠 혼자서 1인시위하는 사진이 올라올 때마다 그런 오빠의 모습을 보는 게 너무 힘들었다고 했다. 그러나 지난 몇 달 동안은 독일, 한국, 스위스, 프랑스, 미국, 심지어 탈북민 자원봉사자에 이르기까지 전 세계 사람들이 오빠를 도와 집회를 계획하고 일하며 함께 즐겁게 미소짓는 사진을 계속 볼 수 있었다.

13010620_801289503348380_9185978315233079822_n

6월17일 집회에서 내가 세실리아를 처음 만났을 때, 그녀는 마치 꿈만 같다고 했다. 그래서 나는 내 곁에 있던 우리 인턴을 꼬집고 ‘꿈 아닙니다.’라고 말해주었다. 세실리아는 자신의 오빠가 목소리를 낼 수 있게 해 줘서 고맙다고 했다. 아버지가 납북된 사실로부터 도피하려 했다는 그녀는 전 세계 자원봉사자들에게 둘러싸여 이렇게 말했다. ‘이제 손도, 팔도, 다리도, 목소리도 갖게 됐어요. 나약한 작은 소녀가 일어설 수 있게 됐어요.’

뉴스 언론에서는 간혹 인철씨 가족의 이야기를 다뤘다. 그렇게 사진 몇 장을 찍고, 다음 이슈로 넘어가서는 다시 돌아보지 않았다. 인철씨 가족들은 장장 47년을 고통 속에 살았다. 기념일을 챙기고, 성공과 실패를 아버지 황원씨 없이 나누면서.

집회 며칠 후 세실리아와 만났을 때, 나는 그녀로부터 최고의 칭찬을 들었다. ‘당신은 타인의 눈에 보이지 않던 사람이 다시 보이도록 해주는 사람입니다. 다른 사람의 이야기를 들어주고, 그들에게 무엇이 필요한지 알아내서 도와줄 수 있는 사람과 연결해주죠. 그렇게 그들의 목소리가 세상에 들리도록 해 줬어요. 그리고 이제 내 목소리도 세상에 들릴 수 있게 됐습니다.’

13501701_842859992524664_5575289154674131535_n
우리는 이들의 목소리가 계속 세상에 울려 퍼지도록 노력할 것이다. 많은 사람들이 황원씨의 송환을 촉구하는 온라인 청원서에 서명해 동참하고, 올 12월 개최할 또다른 집회에도 참여해줬으면 하고 기원한다. 돌아오는 12월 집회는 대한항공 NAMC YS-11기가 하이재킹 당한 1969년 12월11일을 기리는 행사다.

Hwang baby

케이시 라티그 주니어는 TNKR의 공동창립자이며 현재 서울에 거주하고 있다. (이메일: CJL@post.harvard.edu.)

2016-03-22 “Top Secret” Korea Times column

 

Top Secret

 

2016-03-21 : 16:19

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Back in 2007 when I launched a radio talk show, I predicted that I wouldn’t get major media coverage until there was a problem. After I got fired from the show in a dispute with management, I was proven correct. I got a long article published in the Washington Post, several national media invitations, mentioned in a book about conspiracy theories, and later became a regular commentator on a National Public Radio show.

While it might have seemed great to get that attention, I didn’t enjoy being known for getting fired from a talk show. Friends who remembered my prediction thought it was amazing that I had guessed in advance what would happen, but like a broken clock, I make that kind of prediction all of the time. Do something to slightly improve the world, and a reporter may stumble upon you every once in a while. Get caught in a scandal or crime, and you can have reporters surrounding your home, taking photos as you walk from your front door to check the mail or do sit-ups in your garage. Whether you are the shooter or the target, a reporter will want to talk to you.

I have been engaged in activism on North Korean issues for a few years. At the beginning, I predicted that I wouldn’t get major news coverage until I got caught up in a scandal. No scandals yet, although I have had some reporters snooping around when they thought some of my colleagues had done something wrong.

Every time a reporter stumbles upon my activities helping North Korean refugees, I thank them. Certainly there were scandals, murders, earthquakes, K-pop and other stories that would have generated more clicks. Then I pretty much say goodbye, recognizing that they will never write about my activities again.

It might be a cynical point of view, but in order to understand reporters, think about a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat at a birthday party for kids. Imagine the magician demonstrating to the kids how he did it. Then imagine the magician asking the kids, “Do you want me to pull the rabbit out of the hat again?” The kids, like reporters, want to see something different, something “new.” That’s why I say the best way to get a reporter curious about a document is to label it “Top Secret.”

Perhaps that was my mistake, yet again. You probably won’t hear about it in many places, but this past Sunday I was one of the main organizers of the International Volunteers Workshop: Opportunities to Help North Koreans, co-hosted by the Teach North Korean Refugees Education Center at AOU, Justice for North Korea, and Transitional Justice Working Group. Our goal is to connect English-speaking volunteers with organizations helping North Koreans who have escaped or are still being held hostage in Kim Jong-Il’s country. According to our voluntary registration team, we had almost 200 people from about 40 countries join the event held at Memorial Hall of South Korea’s National Assembly.

A few of the attendees looking around at the diverse crowd trying to do something helpful for North Koreans were openly asking why there wasn’t more media there. After we left, I mentioned to one that it wasn’t too late, one of us, preferably an American, could still return to the National Assembly and steal something, thereby guaranteeing us 72 point headlines in the Korean press for weeks. There would be reunification of the Koreas, in the press, as both sides of the peninsula denounced us.

As if two decades of dealing with media had not already made me cynical, I recently received an email from a reporter who often asks me about stories dealing with North Korea. I mentioned to him that one of the speakers at our upcoming workshop would be Hwang Inchol, the leader of the Association for Family Members of the KAL Kidnapping Victims. The group is pressing for North Korea to return the people on a South Korean airplane (KAL YS-11) hijacked by North Korean agents in 1969. Hwang’s father was on the plane, abducted to North Korea. Even as I was writing the email about the case, I knew it would fail the reporter’s test: “Is it new/news?” Predictably, the reporter wanted to know about a “new” North Korean museum being built somewhere. “New” trumps “important” in journalism.

As I listened to Hwang Inchol, still in pain after 47 years, I became a broken clock, making a note to myself that he wouldn’t get news coverage until he got caught up in a scandal or did something crazy like trying to escape to the DMZ to find his father. It would be pointless, but he might even get as much coverage as the American recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly trying to steal a banner in North Korea.

The writer is director of the Teach North Korean Refugees Education Center at American Orientalism University. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu

2016-03-18 “Bear Hugs in Texas” Korea Times column

Bear hugs in Texas By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

My previous column was about celebrating every day I am alive. Later that day, my grandaunt passed away in Texas and the grandmother of a North Korean refugee friend passed away in North Korea.

I last saw my grandaunt two years ago when I flew from Seoul to Texas to attend my paternal grandmother’s funeral. The people who were already adults when I was born, probably changed my diapers when I was baby, and celebrated my achievements during my formative years are passing from the scene.

While grieving for my grandaunt passing away, I got the bad news from my North Korean refugee friend. She later said her mother and aunt, who also escaped from North Korea, cried non-stop for days.

Even in death, your country of birth can determine your freedom to “seize the day.” Two years ago before she became a leading spokesperson about North Korea, Yeonmi Park said to me, in anger and disgust: “I have the right to see my family. Why does Kim Jong-Un have the right to block me from seeing my family?”

I think about that whenever I hear people talk about the “good” allegedly done by Kim Jong-Un and his dirty regime. They are kidnappers blocking people from the freedom to enjoy their lives as they wish, to see their family in good or bad times, to find their way in the world.

My North Korean refugee friend and her family could not return to North Korea to attend the funeral of her grandmother. Certainly they are happy to have escaped from North Korea, but who could blame them if they reflected on their choice to escape from North Korea?

I hesitate to say this because people are shocked to hear North Korean refugees say they miss being in North Korea. Some friends (South Korean as well as Westerners) who started paying attention to the stories of North Koreans rather than just headlines sometimes express outrage or bewilderment about refugees saying they want to return to or miss North Korea. I tell them to slow down about judging people who had to make life-or-death, all-or-nothing decisions to escape from a regime determined to keep them from escaping.

Unlike my North Korean friend who could not hop on a plane or even make a phone call to North Korea without being cautious, I dropped everything to fly to Texas to attend my grandaunt’s funeral. I thought back to last year when I didn’t attend an aunt’s funeral _ I still can’t remember what those important activities were that kept me in Seoul then. I see the Facebook posts by my cousins still grieving about their mom and brother passing away within weeks of one another. She was a sweet lady who had a tough life. When I was young she would threaten to “whoop” us when we were bad, but thankfully her threats never became reality.

I am sure that next year I won’t remember which activities I skipped this time in order to attend my grandaunt’s funeral. I reasoned that good colleagues wouldn’t mind postponing a bit (“Those who matter, don’t mind; those who mind, don’t matter”). We can seize the moment among many choices, in this case, family over work.

One of my uncles picked me up at the airport. When I told him I would be attending the funeral, he let me know that he couldn’t wait to give me a “big bear hug.” He calls me “son” and tells me that he loves me every time we message or call.

It isn’t just him. One of his burly sons will give you a bear hug, while he is trash talking how he should finish you off. The other burly son will give you a bear hug, telling you how much he loves and misses you. You are still trying to catch your breath from the tag team of life-draining bear hugs, and dad is already ready for round two of bear hugs.

I knew it would mean a lot to my aunts and uncles for me to attend the funeral because my own father abandoned the family more than two decades ago. He was not there to say a final goodbye to his aunt, but his oldest son was. For a few days, I was “Casey Jr.” My relatives are happy about my activities helping North Korean refugees, but I know they are first of all concerned with my happiness. They would be as thrilled if I were saving whales or collecting stamps.

Before I left Seoul for Texas, I made sure to give a big bear hug to my North Korean refugee friend, lifting her off the ground, mixing both trash talk and words of praise. She didn’t quite understand why I did that, but that’s fine with me.

The writer is co-editor of “Educational Freedom in Urban America: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education.” He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.