“Sometimes, Koreans ask me, ‘why are you working in animal rights in Korea?’. I just want to help Korea become a better country, that’s all.”
He spoke in fluent but slightly uncertain Korean. Each time people asked that question, his answer was always the same. Korea was his wife’s hometown and his 3-year-old daughter’s birthplace, a country he had lived in for many years. He just wanted to make this country a better place.
Appearing at many animal rights conferences and campaigns, AJ Garcia is an animal rights activist and president of CARE’s American branch. On November 15th, we met him at a vegan restaurant, “Huggers”, in Hannam-dong (Itaewon). After missing his attendance at usual animal rights events, we were curious as to what he has been doing.
“I’ve been working at Huggers since the beginning of October. Campaigns, protests, and investigations are all very important. However, I also believe that what we eat in our everyday lives is something we need to pay more attention to. If meat eaters could eat our vegan burgers and think it’s good, it may help influence their food choices.”
Even just until 2011, AJ lived a normal life. Other than raising pets as a child, he did not have a huge interest in animals or animal activism. In 2004, he came to study as an exchange student at Korea University. After one year, he returned to America to graduate. In 2007, he came back to Korea and began teaching English to high school and university students. Four years later, one of his friends asked for a favor. He has no idea that the favor would change his life.
“One day, a fellow foreigner friend asked me to come with him to volunteer for an animal rights organization. Because I spoke a bit of Korean, he asked if I could come with him to a dog meat farm for an investigation. I said yes without hesitation, but ended up seeing some things I will never be able to unsee. It was truly shocking.”
For the first time, AJ had seen dogs being slaughtered at a dog meat farm. He had only ever seen it happen in videos, and seeing it in real life was surely different. That was how the English teacher became an animal rights activist, and turned to veganism. “It was eye opening,” he admitted.
That is how it began. AJ traveled between USA and Korea, working in animal rights activism. He was especially involved with an animal rights organization in America, visiting dairy, pig, and chicken slaughter houses for investigations. But in 2012, things changed for him once again. While working in animal rights organizations, he met So Youn Park president of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE). “We married only 6 months after meeting. The way she dedicated her life to animal advocacy, her passion and sacrifices, was beautiful,” he boasted.
Hand in hand, they became actively involved in animal advocacy together. With no time to rest, they traveled near and far to help animals.
“Last October, I went on a 9 day fast, to protest the deer exhibit at Seoul National University park. The fact that they lived in the zoo and then died in slaughter was shocking to me. The park and Seoul city however, did not see it as a problem. I went on strike in front of the Seoul Mayor Won-Soon Park’s house. While I was there, an elderly man asked me, ‘why is a foreigner trying to interfere with Korean affairs?’. It wasn’t an easy task, but eventually the deer were rescued and I felt that it was worth it.”
“Animals are the same as humans. They just can’t speak like we do. Technically, humans are animals, too. But right now, animals are being bred purely for human consumption and exploitation. Just saying ‘let’s protect animals’ is not working anymore. It’s hard to change people’s minds that way. I’m not saying everyone should be vegan – nor is it possible. But it is possible to live in peaceful coexistence with earth’s animals.”