Multi-culture Story

This is the era of multiculturalism for 2 million people. If you look around, you can easily see neighbors with different skin colors and languages. However, Korean society's notion of multiculturalism is not keeping up with the changes of the times. To solve this problem, the Joongbooilbo has planned a ‘multi-culture story(다문화 스토리)’ that introduces multicultural neighbors living in various ways. ‘Multi-culture Story(다문화 스토리)’ aims to calmly capture the stories of multicultural people living around us and create changes in Korean society in the age of multiculturalism. -Ed-


In May 1992, Casey Lartigue Jr. from the United States traveled to South Korea for a few days and he thought that he will never come to Korea again. It was because he was greatly hurt since most Korean people looked at his skin color and treated him cynically. At that time, the so-called “LA Riots”, in which blacks led armed protests against the Koreans in Los Angeles, were suppressed. It was a time when domestic and foreign public opinion against the black community was not good. After returning to the United States, Casey earned a master's degree from Harvard University and worked at CATO, a think-tank research institute, and continued a stable life. Then he returned to South Korea, which he said he would never come back to, and has been helping North Korean refugees for 11 years. What happened to him? Joongbooilbo met him and talked about his story.

Casey Lartigue Jr., a president of FSI. Image=Seyong Lee

Why did you come back to South Korea?

After traveling to Korea, I returned to the United States and worked as an education policy analyst at the CATO Institute in Washington. Meanwhile, the staff of CFE(Center for Free Enterprise) which is located in South Korea visited the institute. Before I worked for CATO, I had worked on a project with CFE, and one of the staffs I worked with at that time recognized me and greeted me. I expressed my pleasure by saying that I would like to have the opportunity to work in Korea. It was just a greeting. I did not expect anything at all. A few years later, CFE offered me to come as a visiting researcher. After much deliberation, I accepted it and came to Korea again in 2010.

As far as I know, you established FSI supporting North Korean refugees. Tell us about what FSI is.

Freedom Speakers International (FSI) is a non-profit organization established to support North Korean refugees. FSI is mainly helping to inform the international community about the harsh life that the refugees experienced in North Korea in English.

Why did you think that North Korean refugees need to learn English?

In 2012, I got involved in the activity of sending up large balloons containing DVDs and CDs toward North Korea. I thought that such an activity would affect the consciousness of the North Korean people.

One day, a North Korean refugee came to me. "I am grateful that you are doing a good job for the North Korean people, but your activity is not helpful at all to the North Korean defectors in South Korea" he said. For a moment, I felt as if I had been hit with a hammer. So, I asked him. "What do North Korean refugees need most?" He replied, "I wish I could learn English". I was embarrassed because I had never taught someone English until then, but I found a volunteer with experience and made connections with North Korean refugees who wanted to learn English.

Why are u helping the refugees from North Korea?

The book, The Prophet of Freedom, by Frederick Douglas, which I read when I was 12, had a huge impact on me. Frederick, who advocated the abolition of slavery, emphasized in this book that people should be given the right to education and freedom of movement. Although I was young, I could realize the value of freedom. Everyone should be able to get the education they want, wherever they want. North Korean refugees are one such case. They were not properly educated in North Korea and had no freedom of movement. We are helping them by sharing the vivid human rights abuses they experienced and hoping that the human rights of the people in North Korea can be improved even a little.

What is the reaction of North Korean refugees studying English at FSI?

Most of them are satisfied with that. One North Korean refugee said, "Casey has healed my heart". I was surprised when he said something sweet to me because he is a tough guy who had served in the military for 10 years in North Korea. I wanted to hug him tight for a moment (laughs).

Casey Lartigue Jr., a president of FSI. Image=Seyong Lee

You gave up your comfortable life in America and came to Korea. Don’t you have any regrets?

Before coming to Korea, I was making a successful career as an education policy analyst in the United States. I periodically published a column in prominent daily newspapers such as The Washington Post and USA Today and hosted radio programs. Even after I came to Korea, various companies offered me a high salary and a position. But I didn't want to live a life chasing money or fame any longer. I believe that doing what I think is right and doing what I want to do is important. It's not that I never thought of opportunity cost, but I want to live by my convictions. North Korean refugees who have been helped say that I have changed their lives. That's why I'm doing this. There is no regret.

What has made you feel difficult most while working as a president of FSI?

Money, definitely. FSI is not a government-funded organization. It operates solely through donations. However, raising donations is not easy. Significantly after COVID-19, donations have decreased even more. Both budget execution and business scale have been reduced. In fact, there are concerns about whether FSI can continue to operate.

Why have you not received support from the government?

Since receiving government grants limits the activities we need to proceed with. Government grants, for example, cannot be used to compile books. One of our main activities is to publish the stories of North Korean refugees, and there is no reason to receive government grants if we cannot use them. In addition, government grants cannot be used for labor costs. We need the help of many people when we run our business. But we can't pay them. Should we just ask them to work for free? It is unfortunate that there is no practical support plan.

Tell us FSI’s plan.

FSI is like a basketball team. As owners, we create a basketball court and help coaches and players play freely within it. Education volunteers are coaches and North Korean refugees are players. Coaches' main job is to help players shoot and dribble well. The players will grow along the way and achieve their respective goals.

By Seyong Lee


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