Breaking records and a color barrierKim Jun, 17, who plays midfield for the Korean national youth soccer team, doesn't know who his father is and doesn't want to know. His mother Kim Kyeong-soon, 46, refuses to dig into the past of her boy's father and never speaks of the man.
Jun’s dark skin and curly hair, however, bear the genetic signature of his father, who was an American soldier once stationed in Korea.
After Jun's mother delivered her son, Ms. Kim moved from one menial job to another to support her child and herself. Ms. Kim worked countless hours at factories that produced ham and instant noodles.
Jun as a baby grew up closer to his grandmother because his mother was always working. His grandmother loved him but suspected that as he got older others would single him out for being different.
In 1993, Ms. Kim married a simmani, or wild ginseng hunter, and young Kim now had a father. According to Ms. Kim, her new husband, Kim Jeong-seok, has become so fond of Jun that any time Mr. Kim finds wild ginseng, instead of selling it, he offers it to Jun.
Jun’s life slowly started to blossom and soon he had a baby brother, with whom Jun has become so close that they often sleep together in the same bed.
“Last year when my brother asked me why my face was so dark, my heart dropped,” Jun says. “I couldn't tell him the details and he never asked any more.”
In school, some of Jun’s friends make fun of his different skin color. They call “Briquet” or worse. But when Jun is on the soccer field, his friends call him Pele, after the Brazilian superstar.
Jun’s life has revolved around soccer since the fourth grade, when he joined a neighborhood school team. Soon scouts became aware of his talent.
With Jun's great flexibility and strength he was flying across the soccer field as if he had wings and helped lead his neighborhood school to many victories.
Jun's mother wasn't too enthusiastic about Jun playing soccer for she worried that he might get injured. That happened in the fifth grade when Jun cut his left thigh in a match. His mother scolded her son while wiping blood from the boy's leg, but Jun insisted that he wanted to play. “It's the only thing I can do,” Jun shouted.
“I shivered,” Ms. Kim says. “Until then Jun had never revealed anger about being different. I guess he had a a lot bottled up inside.”
Last year, after Jun graduated from middle school, he was recruited by the Suwon Bluewings, a professional team in the K-League.
“I think Jun feels more at ease now then when he first joined the team,” Kim Ho, the Bluewings coach, says. “I guess a lot of that goes to the Brazilian players on our team. They help Jun relax and their presence reminds him that he's not the only person with dark skin.”
Jun's skills have improved so rapidly that this year he became the first mixed-Korean to play with the Korean national youth team.
“Jun has speed, passing skills and the talent to break through an opponent's defense,” says Yoon Deok-Yeo, the head coach for the national youth team. “He is solid, and can play on either the left or right side.”
Jun says that for years his mother has told him to be a person that others of different colors can to look up to. “My dream is to hear people tell their children with different skin color 10 years from now to become a respectable person -- like Kim Jun.”
by Choi Min-woo
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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