An Exclusive Interview with Alexa White

First ever beauty pageant contestant to take up the North Korean human rights cause

By Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, and Rosa Park, HRNK Director of Programs



Edited by Rosa Park 
Original Transcription by Soohyun Chang and Grace Warwick
Link to Video Interview: 
https://youtu.be/mzNt-BfmCBA

Rosa Park:
Q1) Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What school do you attend? What is your major? Where are you from and what is your ethnic background?


Alexa White:

Well, I’m originally from my hometown that is located in North Canton, Ohio, which is in the Akron Canton area. I attend the Colombus College of Art and Design, which is very wonderful school that I am proud to be a part of. My major is 3D modeling and texturing for game art so it’s a little unexpected for someone from my background to be speaking up about this. My family background is that my mother is Korean. She’s from Ansan, South Korea and my father is from Barberton, Ohio.

Photograph Credit: Annie Noelker (http://www.annienoelkerphoto.com/)

Rosa Park:
Q2) For our audience who may not be familiar with the Miss Akron Canton pageant, could you please tell us about the pageant that you will be participating in in October?


Alexa White:
The pageant is on October 15th and the Miss Akron Canton organization is part of the Miss America system, but there is a Miss USA system and a Miss America System. Those are two separate pageants. If I have the honor to become the local titleholder in Canton, I will automatically advance to Miss Ohio and then the winner of Miss Ohio, which I am aiming for, will hopefully be the next Miss America.


Rosa Park:
Q3) Why did you decide to run for the Miss Akron Canton Pageant?

Alexa White:

Originally, I was invited by the pageant’s Director Ali Hoffman. At first, I thought “Oh, this sounds pretty fun. This isn’t something I would ever see myself doing. Why don’t I go ahead and do it?” When I started this pageant I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have because I didn’t think that I could make a difference. Thanks to HRNK—to Rosa and to Greg—I’ve realized that my voice is powerful, it matters, and I hope that I can encourage other people to speak up as well about this issue.


Rosa Park:
Q4) How will these pageants contribute to your personal growth?

Alexa White:

If I am crowned Miss Ohio and if I am crowned Miss America, I’ll be able to reach more people and get this issue across to many more people. I am very grateful to say that I am in a period of my life where I’m comfortable with who I am and I’m comfortable with what I look like. That’s something that I did struggle with in the past and it’s something that everybody struggles with, but I’m ready to take the next step, finish improving myself, and start helping to improve others’ lives.

If I am crowned Miss Akron Canton I would like to discuss this issue with several of the school boards in my community, not only in North Canton, but hopefully in Columbus as well, to hopefully have human rights as a whole unit because it’s not a thing of the past. Concentration camps are not a thing of the past. I feel like that’s the conception that most Americans have today: they think that we’re done with it. They think that we’ve grown as a world, but that’s just not the truth. We really need to take a stand in our schools. Encourage our school systems to teach diversity, to teach empathy, and to teach about human rights because these are future lawmakers, future presidents we’re talking about. It’s really important that we start with our education system.


Rosa Park:
Q5) As a contestant in the Miss Akron Canton pageant, what would you like to accomplish for the people of North Korea?

Alexa White:

For one, I would really like this to be an issue that we don’t have to talk about. These people have suffered so much and to see the Koreas unified under one stable government that puts its people in front of its warheads would be the ultimate goal for me. Unfortunately, we have to take smaller steps to get to that point. Focusing on the repatriation of North Korean citizens from China back into North Korea is an issue that really, really needs to be addressed. I think that it is something that we can fix right now in our generation.


Greg Scarlatoiu:
Q6) What is the challenge of your generation? This is the other question that I would ask.


Alexa White: 
In America I feel like our youth has been so influenced by human rights issues we’ve seen a huge growth in LGBTQA+ human rights issues, which is a great step forward. I think we’ve been able to have the time and the empathy to really relate to the people who are suffering and to try and change. We see it with the Black Lives Matter movement. We see it with the LGBTQA+ movements. It’s just so amazing and I think now that we’ve helped solve these issues on our home front, and there are definitely more issues in America that need to be addressed. But I also think that some Americans, some American youths—like some of my peers, who are ready to take the next step and start to change the world for the better—instead of fixing domestic issues, I think we are at the point right now where we can really focus on international issues.

Greg Scarlatoiu:
Being concerned about these international issues, which are really not international, they’re universal issues. We basically look after our own national security interest because these abysmal human rights violations are the reason why the North Korean regime acts the way it does. In order to do away with this clear and present danger—the threat the North Korean regime poses to the United States—we have to begin by improving the human rights situation of the people of North Korea. Perhaps, meaningful change will come after that.


Rosa Park:
Q7) Is there an issue in the field of North Korean human rights that you are particularly interested in and why?

Alexa White:

All of the issues in North Korean human rights are of great interest to me and of course, we’d like to see them all stop as I said before. The exportation of forced laborers from North Korea into countries like Poland, China, Russia, and even countries in Africa is very surprising to me. I’m very surprised that the other governments of the world would want to support this heinous regime. I’m also interested in the repatriation of North Korean citizens from China back to North Korea, which is, as HRNK has discussed before, very illegal. That’s also an issue that interests me. What I see glossed over and what I see not being addressed as much, even though all of these issues are equally horrible—the conditions are terrible—but women’s rights in North Korea is something that really needs to be addressed more in the media, especially the forced abortions and infanticide taking place in the kwan-li-so camps. If the public learns more about that, then maybe we can get more interest.

Greg Scarlatoiu:
Please remember that human rights in North Korea should not be a political issue and here’s your comparison: was apartheid in South Africa a political issue? What would have happened if we had been afraid to address apartheid because especially during the days of the Cold War, it might have been construed a political issue. So I would say that North Korean human rights is an issue that transcends politics. Refer to the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korean human rights. Of course, at any beauty pageant, mention of the UN is great. In this particular case, it confers legitimacy upon our cause. Remember that a UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korean human rights established that crimes against humanity are committed against the people of North Korea.


Rosa Park:
Q8) How do you get your information on North Korea human rights? Are you familiar with HRNK’s publications and other activities?

Alexa White:

When I became aware of this issue, it was just regular Google searches. As I really started to delve into researching the organizations involved and helping to correct this, I started getting my information from Twitter and I recently subscribed to HRNK’s daily newsletter as well, which has been a great source of information. I’m also a big fan of Lee Hyeon-seo. She’s been such an inspiration and her courage is out of this world. We cannot thank her enough for telling her story and having her shed a light on what’s really going on in North Korea.


Rosa Park:
Q9) In our initial conversation, you mentioned that your grandmother escaped North Korea and that you still have family members in North Korea. Could you please share their stories with us?

Alexa White:

Well, my grandma was this rough and tumble girl from North Korea and she was part of a family of silk textile merchants so when Kim Il-sung took power, they felt very uncomfortable there since they were merchants producing luxury commodities. They decided to leave and join South Korea, but my great-great-grandfather was not able to travel with them. To have someone take care of him, they left my great aunt, her sister, behind to help out, but unfortunately, we’ve lost contact with her and her fate is unknown to us. I pray that she’s okay, but my family taught me to hope for the best and expect the worst.


Rosa Park:
Q10) How does your family background influence your views on North Korea today?

Alexa White:

I just learned about my great aunt maybe one or two years ago and that really invited me to learn more about what was going on in this mysterious country. In American media, it’s kind of portrayed as a hermit country, we don’t really hear about a lot of its human rights violations. We hear more about its nuclear warheads and about the eccentricities of its dictators. Having a family member there really helped to propel my quest for knowledge further. My dad is a very kind and giving man so a lot of what I’m representing here today comes from him. He taught us to always be as generous as you can and do whatever you can for other people.


Rosa Park:
Q11) If you could see your great aunt now, what would you say to her?

Alexa White:

I would say that I hope you’re doing well and I’m so sorry that you had to suffer the way that you did. There was no way that my grandmother and her mother, father, and your sisters could ever have known that it would have gotten this bad. I hope that you are able to find love and create a family if that’s what you wish to do. I hope that you’re happy, but the reality of this country is very dim. So I hope that you can forgive us.


Rosa Park:
Q12) Have you thought of a message you would like to deliver to the people of North Korea? If so, what is it and do you plan on delivering this message on stage.

Alexa White:

I think if there’s anything that I would like to say to the people of North Korea it is that we hear you, we see you, and we are fighting for you.

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