YHB/Coming back home

This page was last edited on 6 July 2019, at 11:36.

When Kim Young-sam was elected as president, returning to Korea became a possibility for Yoon. Kim Young-sam was an important political figure who had fought alongside Kim Dae-jung for establishing democracy in Korea. It seemed likely that he would be open to the possibility of allowing Yoon to return.

Yoon wished to return to Korea to see his mother, but there was not much he could do. Around that time, several comrades in Gwangju, such as Hwang Kwang-woo, started to campaign for Yoon’s return. Hwang and his colleagues collected signatures. Through their diligence and drive, they were able to submit 70,000 signatures to the National Assembly.

On May 12, 1993, Yoon was at the YKU community center in L.A. As always, his day had been busy. In the afternoon, he received a phone call from a newspaper in Korea. He listened in shock as the voice on the other end of the line told him that President Kim had permitted Yoon’s return to Korea.

Yoon felt stunned. How could he have expected for something so big to happen so suddenly? Immediately, calls poured in from news organizations, friends, and family.

Yoon did not have time to discuss the possibility of moving back to Korea with all branches of the YKU. He asked the branches to discuss the matter among themselves and let him know the consensus by fax. He thought it would be best to temporarily return to Gwangju – after his visit, he would be able to make a more permanent decision.

Yoon went out to the backyard of the school. He looked over the garden – the lettuce, cucumber, pumpkin, spinach, leeks, chives, balsamina, and rose moss. In times of distress, Yoon had found peace in looking after the plants in the yard. Crouching in silence, he had weeded, watered, and nurtured them. He had made supports for peppers and webs for the cucumber and pumpkin vines to climb on. With him gone, who would look after the flowers and vegetables?

On the morning of May 19, 1993, Yoon set off to the airport, trying to hide his tears. Dr. Choi Jin-hwan and Gang Wan-mo accompanied him to Gwangju. Members who had come to see him off waved a tearful goodbye. Yoon recalled:

Trying to hide tears, I went through airport security. Whenever I’d seen off my guests at the airport, I hoped the day would come when I would also get to return to Korea. I was envious of them as they walked through the gates and into security – and now, I was finally passing through the same gate myself.

Yoon had spent 12 years in exile – he had come to America 34 years old and now he was a middle aged man, 46 years old. On the plane, Yoon broke down in tears. “After the plane took off, so many faces flickered in my memory. It took me at least a couple hours to return to reality. I was returning to my beloved homeland. I felt overwhelmed.”