NATIONAL

Korean-Canadians respond to Toronto van attack

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Apr 25, 2018 - 18:11
  • Updated : Apr 26, 2018 - 10:33
South Korean-born musician Sarah Yunji Moon was at home playing her flute in Saskatoon, Canada, when she first heard the tragic news on Monday -- that at least 10 died after a man drove a van into pedestrians near Yonge and Finch area in Toronto, a district widely considered as a mini Koreatown.

The principal flutist at the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra used to live there during her high school years, as well as from 2014 to early this year. The area is also where her mother and brother still reside.

“I immediately called my mom and started texting my brother,” the 32-year-old told The Korea Herald. “But my hands were shaking while I was typing so I had to put my phone down a few times.”

Workers clean up blood stains in Yonge and Finch area in Toronto, Canada, known as one of the Koreatowns there, following a van that attacked multiple people. (Yonhap)

While her brother and mother were safe, the musician said she, along with many Koreans in Toronto, has been deeply affected by the incident. According to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, two Korean nationals, as well as one Korean-Canadian, were among 10 people killed by the tragedy on Monday.

The Yonge and Finch area where the tragedy took place -- an ethnic enclave consisting of Korean restaurants, karaoke bars and Korean grocery stores, among others -- has been home to many Koreans and Korean-Canadians in Toronto for at least 20 years. It is where one would go for K-pop goods, Korean cuisine and even soju, according to those who have lived in the area.

Moon said she is no exception.

“I am shocked to see my old neighborhood being exposed to this level of violence,” she said.

“I found myself feeling very upset even after I found out that my family and friends were not hurt. One of the articles I read had a picture of a covered body guarded by a policeman in front of a restaurant right at Yonge and Finch. I recognize the Korean writing on the window in the picture. It made me feel really weird. I used to meet up with my friends there.”

Jamie Shon, 33, a Korean-Canadian who now lives in Seoul, says the Yonge and Finch area basically “was” her teenage years. She moved to Toronto from South Korea with her family in the late 1990s.

“I was there every day (during my teenage years) in the most literal sense possible,” she said.

“I would meet my friends in front of a stationary shop called the ‘Morning Glory.’ We would have our bubble tea at ‘Teashop 168,’ and sing K-pop numbers at the ‘Young Karaoke Bar.’ I would study at the North York Public Library nearby every day. My entire teenage years was spent at the area, and to see the area hit by such a tragedy has been absolutely heartbreaking. ”

Moon said the area carries personal significance to her family as immigrants from South Korea.

“My mom feels comfortable living in the neighborhood where there are Korean grocery stores near and Korean bank tellers,” she told The Korea Herald.

“My family feels strong ties to the community, and we have enjoyed how the area has become more flourished since we’ve lived here. I joke with my Canadian-born friends that Yonge and Finch is really pronounced ‘Young and Feeeench,’ and it has become almost like a code for good Korean food.”

Korean-Canadian organizations have expressed their condolences following the attack, and announced their plans to commemorate the victims.

“We are still in shock and in great sorrow on what happened yesterday, Monday April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Canada,” the Korean Canadian Cultural Association said in their statement, released on Facebook.

“We open our arms and doors to any victims and/or victims’ family that need help with the following: translation assistance, lodging, transportation needs and counseling services.”

The Canadian police identified the suspect as Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old student at Seneca College in Toronto’s North York area. He was arrested after a tense confrontation with the police. The Canadian authorities said although his acts appeared deliberate, no motive was clear.

Another Korean-Canadian, who has been living near the Yonge and Finch area for more than two years, said she is now worried about her children’s safety. She has two daughters -- one is three years old while the other is only a month old.

“At first I thought it was a traffic accident caused by the driver suffering a heart attack or something,” the Korean-Canadian, whose last name is Hwang, told The Korea Herald.

“Torontonians including myself are very sad about the tragedy and the whole city is shaken by this. I will do whatever I can do to keep my children safe. (The area where the attack occurred) is the street where I used to walk around with my babies.”

The Korean Canadian Cultural Association is holding a public vigil for the victims this Friday, at North York Center Civic Centre in northern Toronto at 7 pm. For more information, call +1 416 383 0777.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)