Remember All Women

Michael Vince Kim

Sisters Olga and Adelina Lim Hi, descendants of Koreans. Matanzas, Cuba. 2016. Michael Vince Kim.

Today is International Women’s Day.  

I could listicle the countless ways we should recognize the relevance and significance of this day and tell you 10 ways to contribute to the cause.  But I won’t.

I’m going to relay an enduring remarkable photojournalism story I came across while researching a previous post.

I was scanning the World Press Photo Contest images and was immediately struck by one in particular.  A portrait of two Asian women who resembled familiar shadows of Korean ethnicity but were obviously of mixed breed.  Curious, I read the caption and was blown away by this rare account of intercultural despair, identity and migration.

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Port of Progreso, Mexico, where Koreans first arrived in the Yucatan peninsula. Progreso, Mexico. 2016.

Michael Vince Kim is one of the first prize winners in the People category.  He somehow delivers this tragic tale with a poetic justice.  These photos are his story of “Aaenikang” (in Korean, “henequen” which means agave).

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Korean-Mayan descendants during a birthday party. Merida, Mexico. 2016.

In 1905, more than 1,000 Koreans traveled to Mexico under the false promise of prosperity in a paradisiac land. Instead, they arrived at henequen (agave) plantations. They were sold off as indentured slaves to harvest agave that was then known as “the green gold” of Mexico. Individuals were beaten if they fell behind their daily quota, and forced to work long hours under the scorching sun and the suffocating humidity of Yucatan.

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A Korean-Mayan’s traditional Korean dress. Merida, Mexico. 2016.

Many were desperate to return home.  Yet once their contract ended in 1910, Japan had colonized Korea.  With no homeland to return to, they embarked on another journey that destined them to more work in henequen plantations in Cuba.  Today there exists a small population of Korean-Mayans, many of whom the younger generations seek to learn about their Korean heritage.

This is not the first or last story on slavery.  This one just really haunts me.  I wonder how many similar stories have been lost under the surface.

Today is International Women’s Day.

As we celebrate the important notable women in our life, fight for gender equality for our daughters and obtain empowerment through marches, social media and discussion – remember to stand with the women with blank stares who have resigned to a certain way of life and don’t know what it means to voice an opinion. Even among women, there’s disparity.  Rise up for all women.  #BeBoldforChange

Learn more about International Women’s Day here and read my previous post on this year’s World Press Photo Contest here.

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