Native American and Koreans look similar. When I first read that statement in a book, I did not think it could be true. Even though the book said that American Indians and Koreans both came from Asia, I could not understand why people thought so.
I looked at the picture of a Native America man next to the statement again and again, but still could not find anything common between him and any Korean man I knew. It was not until I read a book called The Education of Little Tree that I learned that Native Americans and Koreans have not only similar appearances but also painful pasts.
The Education of Little Tree is a story about a Cherokee Indian boy called Little Tree. He is raised by his grandfather who teaches him where he came from, how to live like a Cherokee, and who his people are. The most powerful part of this book is where Wales, Little Tree? grandfather, tells his grandson about how Cherokees were forced to leave their land.
Cherokee people once lived peacefully in the Appalachian Mountains, just as their long gone ancestors had. One day, American soldiers, armed with guns, came and ordered them to sign a paper. The paper said that Cherokees were to leave their home and move to the west, the barren land the government had assigned for them. After it was signed, the soldiers surrounded the Cherokee people and led them to a place they had never been to.
On their way to the reservation, more than one third of the tribe died. American soldiers gave the survivors time to bury the dead, but they refused. They held the dead bodies of their sisters, brothers, wives, children, or parents and continued to walk. Villagers passing by saw the trail of the tribe and cried, but the Native Americans did not. They kept the sorrow to themselves.
According to the book, during the ?rail of Tears,??early thirteen thousand Cherokees were forced to move to Oklahoma tribe after tribe. During one thousand and three hundred meter march, about four thousand Cherokees died from cold weather, lack of food, illness, and accidents.?
The description of the ?rail and Tears?reminded me of what I learned in Korean history class. I realized that American Indians and Koreans share sorrowful history. After Korea fell under the reign of Japan, Koreans were forced to leave their homeland as the Native Americans were. Farmers who were deprived of the land they had once cultivated had to move to China or Japan to find shelters. Young men were drafted to Japan, China, and Southeastern Asia.
A great number of them lost their lives working for the Japanese army, either in war or in the construction of Japanese colonies. Women about my age were sent to Japanese forces under the name of ?omfort Women,?being treated as prostitutes. All these historical facts made me have tears form the bottom of my heart for the Cherokees and many other American Indian tribes who must have gone through similar tragedy.
A few days after finishing The Education of Little Tree, I looked at the picture of a middle-aged Native American man again. At that moment, he looked very much like a typical Korean man I could see on the street.
The man in the picture and the man on the street both had harsh-looking features with wrinkles history had left on their faces. I could see deep sorrow in the wrinkles that almost look like scars. At the same time, I read the firm will to keep their own identities and native land. It is a place they love, where their souls lie. They believe no one can truly possess the land.
No guns can change the fact that they belong there, while the land belongs only to nature. They do not say so aloud. They speak by their facial expressions and their eyes, which look bluntly indifferent but hold wisdom and subtle passion time has bestowed. History has deprived them of laughter but when they show a smile, you can see it is sincere.
I still believe that the hardships endured by Koreans and Native Americans are what made them look similar. The painful memories of leaving home had solidified into unremovable facial characteristics for both of them. Native Americans and Koreans have the same facial features, same origin, and same tragic past.
Yet there is one more thing they share. It is a responsibility for their future: a responsibility to adhere to the place they call home and to their identities, which they had once lost.