Lynnwood’s Jin So, raised in South Korea, is glad President Donald Trump stepped over the line.
Since Sunday, when Trump met with Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone and took historic steps into North Korea with that country’s leader, So has gauged the reactions of people from his homeland.
With opinions of the American president sharply divided in our country, it’s no surprise that people of Korean ancestry don’t see eye-to-eye on developments there.
“I think Trump is handling it really well. I heard a lot of positive things,” said So, 64, who has worked as a Korean language interpreter for Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, based at Everett Community College.
Judging from reactions to the leaders’ meeting on social media, So believes Korean people are split, “half and half,” over the merits of reaching out to Kim. Some see South Korean President Moon Jae-in as pro-communist, he said.
“Some are saying no compromise with the communists. Others say, ‘Well, it’s better than going to war,’” So said. “Korean people are caught in between. They don’t know which way to turn, and want to turn to the United States for help.
“They are relieved Trump came through the DMZ to talk with Kim Jong Un,” he said.
At issue, of course, is North Korea’s nuclear program — its threat to the United States, South Korea and the world. Opinion writers in The New York Times and The Washington Post, often critical of the U.S. president, praised Sunday’s meeting as a chance to reduce that threat.
In a column published Monday, the Post’s David Ignatius wrote: “This was a high-risk photo opportunity, but when Trump became the first U.S. president to step into North Korea, he reopened a path to denuclearization and normalization of relations.”
During the Korean War, So’s father was a South Korean military pilot. The Lynnwood man moved with his parents and four siblings from Seoul to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1974. Their move exempted him from mandatory military service in South Korea.
He attended a Bible college in the Midwest, became a pastor and U.S. citizen, and with his wife has worked as a real estate broker. Their two children graduated from the University of Washington. His interpreting work often takes him to Seattle hospitals, where he helps elderly patients who don’t speak English.
Some of them worry, he said, that the younger generation doesn’t understand North Korea’s threat.
“Even here in Puget Sound, Koreans are very split. The older they are, they remember the terror,” he said. “Younger people, they’ve never been through the Korean War.”
Kyongran Lee, 51, has also worked as an interpreter with Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, formerly the Refugee and Immigrant Forum of Snohomish County. She lived in Monroe, but is now staying with her son in Louisiana. Much of her family still lives in South Korea, in Busan, the country’s second-largest city long known as Pusan.
Lee agrees that many conservative Koreans fear President Moon is “too soft” and too willing to work with the North. Even those, she said, saw Trump’s visit as a true milestone.
“Personally, I think it’s good news,” she said. “On that day, Koreans cried a lot. It was really, really a historical moment for all of us.”
She believes South Korea’s Moon acts as a bridge between Trump and Kim Jong Un, and also that North Korea should get rid of nuclear weapons. And she hopes the Korean Peninsula will one day be united. “I have been praying for reunification,” Lee said. “I think it’s a possibility.”
In this time of fragile and erratic diplomacy, So, the Lynnwood man, worries less about a North Korean nuclear attack on the United States than about that risk to the people of South Korea. “Kim Jong Un is so unpredictable,” So said.
He won’t say whether or not he voted for Trump — he answered with a hearty laugh. Yet for his homeland, he said, it’s “the right time” for Trump. The two Koreas “need some help from outside,” he said.
And as a man of faith, he doesn’t think leaders alone will solve the problems.
“The Korean people are in God’s hands,” So said. “He will sort things out.”