New French President Francois Hollande’s cabinet is remarkably diverse. It contains equal numbers of men and women and it is a brilliant rainbow of ethnicities, ages and backgrounds, including figures from the former French colony and foreign adoptees.
The new government’s Minister of Digital Economy is the Korean-born Fleur Pellerin (her birth name is Kim Jong-suk). Pellerin was adopted by a French couple six months after her birth and has risen through French society to a position of national leadership. The successful integration of French citizens of foreign origin is a testament to the country’s progressive values.
Unfortunately, when it comes to adoption, there is little difference between the Korea of 1974, from which Pellerin was adopted, and Korea today. In 2010, 36% of children adopted from abroad by Americans were Korean, making Korea the number one country of origin by far. What must be remembered is that 90% of these children were born to single mothers. For Koreans, survival can become difficult due to even the slightest difference in background.
One high school student, born to a Korean father and a Russian mother, who was recently arrested on suspicion of serial arson, serves as an example. He grew up hearing the word “half-breed” from elementary school onwards, later dropping out of middle school when his depression deepened. The child calmed down, took the necessary exams, and entered high school, but dropped out again after three months after experiencing the same ostracism. Eventually, he began wandering the streets before making a molotov cocktail and setting fire to his former school.
Pellerin, after being adopted and taken to France, rose to become a government minister after following a top-flight elite course, but the mixed race Korean child, who looked slightly different, became a criminal.
The same discrimination is suffered by other minorities. The president of the United States has made clear his support for gay marriage, but in Korea even love between people of the same sex is frowned upon. Gay couples on dates can be assaulted in the street. Student human rights ordinances come under fire because of regulations banning discrimination according to sexual orientation.
There is no reason to try to stop people from rejoicing in the fact that an ethnic Korean has become a French minister. What we should be doing first, however, is heeding the soundness of French society, which raised one child with skin of a different color and an unfortunate background to become a minister. We need to take a hard critical look at ourselves as we ostracize and assault others on the basis of the cursory differences in skin color or sexual preference.
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