KOREA FOCUS
Insooni and Her Father
Han Seung-won

Novelist


I like the dark-skinned singer Insooni. Her shining eyes, her wide, innocent smile, her voice so powerful that it would seem to shake heaven and earth, and her energetic moves have the power to make the blood rush. But when I watch her sing I also feel a chill sweeping through my heart. For Insooni is a reminder of the scars left by the Korean War.


I remember my surprise when reading an article about one of her concerts in the United States. I read it once, then rubbing my eyes in disbelief, I read it over again. I was not surprised that after her first concert there in 1999 Insooni was performing for the second time at Carnegie Hall, a New York landmark where famous musicians perform. Nor was I surprised that she had invited 100 war veterans and U.N. ambassadors from 16 nations that had participated in the Korean War to the concert, held to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the war. No, my surprise came from what she said to the reporters.

 

"I have never met my father. I call all Korean War veterans my father. If there are any war vets out there who've felt guilty all their lives about children they might have left behind, I want to tell them they can lay down that burden now," she said.

 

I was astonished that the child of an African-American soldier and Korean mother was able to say this so openly and honestly. "As with the Korean soldiers in Vietnam, love can suddenly bloom for no reason in the midst of war," she said. Insooni's own father may have died in battle in Korea, or he may still be living somewhere in the United States. She openly confessed that she was born out of a moment of love between a black soldier and Korean woman. Koreans are an Asian people who are still nursing the scars of civil war and the resulting national division into South and North. We are still living under the delusion that we are a homogeneous people. The sadness and loneliness of mixed-blood children living in such a country, and the constant taunting they suffered through their lives can easily be imagined.

 

That Insooni has nevertheless become one of the country's top singers is a sad victory of the human spirit. Her words to the press were a sad confession about her own life and a gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation to the father she's never met and who might not even know of her existence. "I call all Korean War veterans my father." To me these words represent Insooni's search for her mythical father. The hero of the classical tale “Hong Gil-dong” was the illegitimate child of a nobleman. Unable to call his father "Father" he fought to bring about a world where he would finally be able to do so, and succeeded in the end.

 

If mother is an emotional field, father is an intellectual seed. Father is another name for God. An individual's fight to find this father is an act of confirmation of identity. To forgive and seek reconciliation with a father who may have no idea of the existence of a child in Korea is only possible for a person who is sure of herself and has a heart big enough to embrace the universe. Having forgiven and sought peace with the world with her big heart, Insooni will be able to sing even better, her songs becoming sad myths that will resound in the hearts of all those who hear them. Her music will caress the scars of war and deliver to the world the message that such a war should never be allowed to happen again.

[Dong-a Ilbo, February 6, 2010]