"I am Korean, and my children are also Korean!"
Last year, a new personality tried to enter the National Assembly, the epicenter of Korean political life. On March 10th 2008, the Creative Korea Party announced that a Philippine migrant woman, Judith Alegre Fernandez, was standing as a proportional representation candidate in the general election. Most Koreans were surprised by the appearance of a candidate without Korean lineage. It was the first time in Korean political history that a foreign-born candidate was able to stand for the National Assembly. Unfortunately, Mrs. Fernandez failed in her attempt. Nevertheless, this caused quite a ripple in our society. In light of this, the Post met with Judith Alegre Fernandez. So let's listen to her story.
Mrs. Fernandez as a Migrant Woman
Before coming to Korea, her aunt persuaded her to major in veterinary medicine. This subject didn't suit her, so she transferred to another university and majored there in education. After graduation, she worked in the Philippines for a Korean company. It was here where she met her husband. She came to South Korea and got married 17 years ago. So we can say that her love for a Korean man was the reason for her coming here. In 1994, Mrs. Fernandez gave birth to her first son, and soon after a daughter. When her children reached school age, problems began to arise. Her children found it hard to study in their school. "They were made fun of by their class mates," she said. "They faced discrimination because of their different skin color, and had bad experiences because other children knew that their mother wasn't Korean. As their mother, it really broke my heart." What made matters worse was that her husband died suddenly in 2004. Fernandez now had to provide for her children all on her own. She began working as an English teacher in a language institute. However, she could not afford the expenses for education in Korea, so after seeing her children face discrimination each day, she decided to send them to their grandmother in the Philippines. "Education in the Philippines is much cheaper than in Korea. Most of all, I knew that by sending them back, there would be an end to the stress of racial discrimination. They adapted well to school life in the Philippines and got along well with their new school friends. And now they are too settled to come back to Korea. So I will let them graduate from high school in the Philippines." She added that her story is not unique: all migrant women face similar problems in Korea.
Mrs. Fernandez as a Candidate for the Assembly
With Pastor Kim Hae-sung, a religious leader well known within the foreign community, she established a Center for Immigrants located in Guro Dong. The center includes a multi-cultural kindergarten that attends to the needs of racially mixed children under an ethos of emotional support and academic guidance. This project is sponsored by various organizations such as Lions Club International, and has been featured on the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS). Mrs. Fernandez has also worked voluntarily in the center for the last three years. As she speaks fluent Korean, she works as an interpreter there. Through her work as an interpreter and counselor, she is able to understand the difficulties faced by migrant women and migrant workers in general. "Many migrant women come to Korea without any preparation," she said. ?hey know hardly anything about Korea and its language. It is so difficult for them to find their way here. I hope that the government educates them as soon as they arrive in Korea. Our own mothers aren't with us, so after childbirth we have to do postpartum care ourselves. I think the government now offers us postpartum care. I hope also that a multi-cultural kindergarten will be established everywhere." In the last few years, Korean society has become more interested in migrant women and workers' right. It seems to be a little better. However, she believes that there are still many things to improve. "Many migrant women have no voting rights in Korea: we don't have a representative in the National Assembly who can speak in our behalf," she said. In a 2007 multi-cultural festival, she met Moon Kook-hyun, the leader of the Creative Korea Party (CKP). He was interested in the immigrant problem, so he suggested that she should stand as a proportional representation candidate. She accepted. However, Moon's proposal provoked some controversy in the political arena. Some people said that it was indeed time for Korea to have a foreign born member within national assembly. Others demurred, saying that Korean society was not yet ready to accept a foreign born member in the national assembly and that Fernandez was not suitably qualified as she didn't know enough about Korean political issues and was ignorant also of the first article of the Korean constitution. "I'm not really sure whether it is necessary for all members of assembly to have a deep understanding of the country's political issues. I think the most important thing is to grasp the areas of concern which affect your constituents. It is true; I don't know much about the Korean constitution. I am a migrant woman so my strength is that I understand migrant women's issues more than anyone else. I can bring about a change in migrant-worker awareness. That is why I want a seat in the National Assembly," she asserted. Although she failed to get a seat in the assembly last election, she will continue to run for office next time. She revealed her resolution in a strong voice: "If I become a member of the National Assembly, I would like to work for those migrant women newly arrived in Korea. I would like to resolve most educational issues that may affect them. If we promote multiculturalism in a positive light, the Korean younger generation will accept it more naturally. I would also like to create programs for foreign spouses and their children as a way of improving the welfare of migrant workers." She already knows how difficult it is for her to be elected, but she believes her political activities will change Korean society for the better.
Most Koreans are proud when they hear of their fellow nationals overseas becoming politicians in their adopted countries; besides, they are also quick to cite unfair racial discrimination if any migrant Korean is excluded from the democratic process. But inside Korea, most people want their society to remain homogeneous, and are reluctant to accept "new" families. Racial discrimination in Korea denies immigrant workers a fair deal in our society. Our country should become a place where different ethnic groups learn to live together in harmony. That is good enough reason why we should watch Fernandez's career with a hopeful eye.
By Kim Na-eun, News Desk Editor
Kim Na-eun, News Desk Editor email@example.com
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