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“Kongji Maria” by Lee Kyung-ja


ⓒ Getty Images Bank
When she was working at the factory, she was called Kongji콩쥐, a devoted daughter in a children’s tale. Whenever she came home for the holidays, even village elders would kindly call her Kongji.

Her three older brothers all tried to get a higher education and even when her younger sister got an advance from her work as a maid to pay for their tuition, the brothers, always wanting more, still counted on Kongji to help out. 
On pay day, Maria’s mother would come to the factory’s front gate and take her entire monthly wage. Even on the days that were not her pay day, her brothers in school uniform would take turns to visit her and ask for help. She would always borrow money from here and there so that her brothers would go away smiling. Nobody knew how satisfying that was. Nobody knew about the aching happiness whenever she heard them make an unsolicited promise of letting their sister live in luxury when they make it big later.  

할머니의 거칠고 흔들리는 목소리를 듣는 동안 
마리아는 또 다시 오빠들을 떠올리고
백일도 못 살고 헤어진 첫 번째 남편을 떠올리고
그 남편에게 잠깐 맡기겠다고 한밤에 놓고 나온 딸 경아를 떠올리고,
서로 말이 통하지 않아 제 나라 말로 욕하고 싸웠던 앤드류를 떠올렸다.
While Maria listened to the old woman’s harsh, trembling voice, she recalled her older brothers, her first husband whom she divorced in less than a hundred days, her daughter Gyeong-ah whom she had left with her husband, and Andrew with whom she had fought and cussed in Korean because she didn’t know English. 

이민 서류 만들어 초청했는데도 
이민 생활 고달프면 마구 패고 행패 부렸던 둘째와 셋째 오빠,
행여 자신들의 오늘을 양갈보 누이가 만들었다 알려질까 전전긍긍하는 피붙이들...
She remembered her second and third oldest brothers whom she had invited to America but who beat her and became violent when their immigrant lives became hard, who worried that somebody might find out that their whore sister was the one who made their present lives possible. 

마리아는 고개를 흔들었다.
다 나쁜 생각들이었다.
Maria shook her head. They were all bad thoughts. The more she thought about them, the more she got hurt. 

# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong
Maria unwittingly appears on TV albeit with her face blurred. After getting reprimanded by her brothers, she feels herself recovering from a long illness. A person’s past experiences could be tragic, but those experiences make her who she is now. Maria had to hide her past and deny her identity in the process. When her sacrifices were recognized, even though indirectly, she was vindicated. But she became indifferent in the end because her hardship, her past was denied once again. For instance, the news program that featured Maria touted that these women’s sacrifices were remembered but ended up airing only provocative scenes. Also, people in the senior center were interested only in finding out who that yanggongju was. In this heartless environment, Maria was trying to protect herself with indifference. 

그는 한국 이민 백 년사의 초석은 
우리가 ‘양색시’라고 경멸해 부르기를 서슴치 않는 여성들의
‘자기희생’을 토양으로 했다는 말로 인터뷰를 맺었다.
그가 말하는 1분 동안 화면은 한국전쟁 이후의 기지촌 풍경을 다양하게 보여줬다.
의정부, 동두천, 평택, 송탄 등지의 기지촌에서
짙은 화장을 한 한국인 여성과 미군들이 뒤섞여 걷거나 춤을 추는 모습이었다.
전쟁직후는 흑백의 낡은 필름이고 
외화획득에 물불 안 가리던 경제개발 시대의 것은 컬러 화면이었다.
불행인지 다행인지 마리아는 이 뉴스를 보지 못했다.
He wrapped up his interview by saying that the cornerstone of the 100-year history of Korean immigration was built on the sacrifice of women whom they called disparagingly as ‘yanggongju.’ Various scenes around the American army bases after the Korean War were shown during his one-minute interview - The sights of Korean women wearing heavy makeup and American soldiers walking down the streets with their arms linked or dancing closely together in army base towns such as Euijeongbu, Dongducheon or Pyeongtaek. The old footage taken immediately after the war was in black and white, and the films from the economic boom when Korea was doing everything to make money abroad were in color. It’s hard to say whether it was fortunate or not that Maria didn’t see the news.

그러나 노인회관의 구석구석에선 자신들의 이민 역사보다 
이곳의 어떤 여자가 과연 기지촌 출신인가를 알아내려는
병적인 호기심으로 한동안 뒤숭숭했다.
For a while, however, the senior center was abuzz not with their immigration history, but with the pathological curiosity of trying to find out which woman was from the army base town. 

물론 마리아에 대한 오빠들의 실망과 분노는 하늘을 찌르고도 남았다.
그런데 오빠들의 호통을 들은 후에 
마리아는 흡사 오랜 질병에서 회복된 기분이었다.
정신이 맑아오는 걸 느끼기도 했다.
그리고 무심해졌다.
Maria’s disappointment and rage toward her brothers had known no bounds. But she felt as if she had recovered from a long illness after she was rebuked by her brothers. She even felt her head clear up. Then she became indifferent. 

Lee Kyung-ja (Born in Yangyang, Gangwon-do Prov., Jan. 28, 1948~ )
Debuted with short story “Confirmation” in 1973

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