For Sinmin Pak, the death of her parents — her father in 2011 and her mother in 2014 — left a hole in her life.
Pak’s three children had grown up and left home, and the time she hoped to spend with her parents was robbed from her.
“That’s when I realized life was short,” Pak, 55, said.
Although she grieved her parent’s death, Pak channeled her emotions into advocacy work in North Texas. Pak, who identifies herself as a “1.5-generation” Korean American, said she also learned how her immigrant experience can be a tool for making an impact in her community. She credits people who take time to learn about the issue and to take action.
“I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a professor or a doctor; I’m just your average person who was a stay-at-home Mom,” Pak said.
Despite having multiple roles in organizations with ties to North Texas’ Korean American community, Pak is most strongly driven by her passion for spreading awareness about “comfort women,” an issue not widely known in the U.S.
A voice for comfort women
The term “comfort women” refers to the victims of sex trafficking by the Imperial Japanese Army during its occupation of the Asia-Pacific region, including China, Korea and the Philippines, in the 1930s and 1940s.
Pak first learned about the issue while at college in California in the 1990s. What inspired her to take action around the issue, however, was a trip to Europe in 2015 through SMU’s Poland Holocaust Education Trip. There, she saw names of victims of the Holocaust written on stones displayed at one of the camps. Seeing how many stones were missing names left a profound impact on Pak.
The trip forced her to think about how many comfort women had been forgotten and erased in history. As upsetting as it was, the experience gave Pak a place to focus a sense of urgency she felt after losing her parents.
In 2016, Pak organized public speaking events in North Texas featuring Lee Ok-Sun, a 90-year-old survivor. The following year, Pak led efforts to hold movie screenings on college campuses related to comfort women. By 2018, Pak had launched Unforgotten Butterflies, a nonprofit focused on raising awareness around the issue as well as the efforts by the Japanese government to deny that women were forced into sex slavery.
“Comfort women survivors are victimized over and over because for so many government leaders, it’s inconvenient to deal with this issue,” Pak said.
Pak’s work has not gone unnoticed.
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Meet the Korean American North Texan who won’t let ‘comfort women’ be forgotten