This spring 14 undocumented Mexican immigrants died from prolonged exposure to extreme heat in the Arizona desert.
'Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep." A mother's warning prodded a young K. Connie Kang as she fought off drowsiness on a bitter winter night in 1951. As Kang sat perched on the rooftop, a train packed with people and goods chugged its way from Seoul to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Rope formed an umbilical cord around Kang's waist, with the other end tightly gripped by her mother who prayed and hung on for dear life. Thankfully, mother and child survived the harrowing ordeal, but war and its cruelties brought dislocation and loss, setting into motion a series of migrations for Kang and her family that eventually led to the United States.
So begins the autobiography of K. Connie Kang, veteran journalist with the Los Angeles Times, who chronicles the moving saga of her personal and family history. Though the narrative begins with the war, Kang moves backward in time to her ancestral village of Boshigol in northeastern Korea. Family stories, no doubt idealized over time, are fondly recorded and speak to the prosperity and prominence of the Kang family.
Readers are seemingly transported to a very different time and place and yet also witness how personal history is intertwined with the tremendous changes taking place in Korea. Just after the turn of the century, Kang's great-grandfather becomes an early convert to Christianity and to "modern" ideas that accompanied the American missionaries. Myong-Hwan Kang, Connie's paternal grandfather, fought the brutal oppression of Japanese colonialism, suffering torture and imprisonment. Sharing about Christianity, modernization, the colonial period, and the Korean War, Kang not only discusses key events in modern Korean history, but touches upon the experiences that continue to shape the lives of many Korean-American immigrants today.
SR. DARLENE NICGORSKI lived in Phoenix and was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis when this interview appeared. She went to Guatemala in 1980 to help establish a preschool but was forced to flee six months later after her pastor was killed. —The Editors
We lack the Bible's inclusive sense, its total concept of who is our neighbor. Our neighbor isn't only those people who speak like us, act like us, and have the same values and economic status as we do. The Bible doesn't say that only when white, middle-class, United States citizens are involved in the process should people become involved. That's a shame, but that's reality, so we have to deal with that. But when they do become involved, they need to understand the full range of involvement and sacrifice. And that what we are doing is nothing compared to the trials of faith borne by the refugees.
Sojourners: What do you think the sanctuary trial is about?
Darlene Nicgorski: I don't see this case really dealing with the issues of sanctuary, because of the limitations of the court. I think this is not only an attempt to silence the truth about Central America and to stop the movement, I really think that the government will particularly try to take on what they consider mainline churches—the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, and other Protestant churches. The Quakers have always been into this sort of stuff, so they're not the same kind of threat. But if the government can, they want to make an example and use this trial not only for its impact on sanctuary but also because the churches are beginning to gain momentum on other issues in which the churches feel themselves in conflict with the government, such as South Africa, the Pledge of Resistance, Witness for Peace, and the peace movement.
The churches' voice on sanctuary and Central America has probably been the clearest voice of any. I think the government has very clearly used this issue as an attempt to intimidate, divide, and separate the churches further for taking a stand that might be opposed to this administration. Doing that with mainline churches is the most effective way to divide administration opponents.
PHILIP WILLIS-CONGER is former director of the Tucson Ecumenical Council's Task Force on Central American refugees. At the time of the interview, he was a United Methodist and he and his wife, Ellen, planned to enter the Pacific School of Religion and the San Francisco Theological Seminary, respectively, as soon as legal proceedings allowed. —The Editors
Sojourners: How have you felt about the trial? What have been your impressions?
Philip Willis-Conger: They've run the gamut. In good times I really appreciate all the learning I am doing during this process. But there have been a few really bad times in which I've felt like I have to get out, to escape.
What has impressed me about the trial itself is what a farce it has been. There doesn't seem to be any semblance of impartiality on the part of the judge. But that has developed a climate here in Tucson where there's a general feeling or awareness that the judge is biased, so that people who weren't interested in sanctuary, or were even against it, have become concerned that we're not getting a fair trial. And that has raised their consciousness level.
It's been a real shame that during the course of the trial we have not really dealt with the major issue. The basic issue isn't how our lawyers interact with the judge, or what Jesus Cruz, the informant, says on the stand. The issue is: Who are these people who are fleeing Central America? Are they persecuted? Do they have a right to asylum here? Is the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) breaking the law by not allowing them to apply for asylum at the border? Do church people have the right to respond affirmatively when their government breaks its own laws? These are some of the more central questions.