When Philip Cha left what is now North Korea in 1950, when he was 14 years old, to go to school, he didn't know that he would never again see his mother, sister and two brothers.
After Korea was divided at the end of the Korean War, Philip was on one side--the south--attending school, and the rest of his family was on the north side. Cha, who came to the United States in 1977, has never been able to see or communicate with them since the Korean War ended in 1953.
Cha, and his son Eric Cha, who run the department store on Golf Road in Niles, reacted Monday to the death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
"I'm happy he's gone," said Eric, who identified himself as a member of the 1.5 generation, which Koreans often use to refer to people born in Korea who came here before adulthood. Consequently, they speak both languages and grew up familiar with both cultures.
"We should be celebrating."
His father, Philip, was more philosophical.
"Because of his death, if there's a unification of North and South, that's what I wish for," he said. I'd like to see democracy and freedom in North Korea with my own eyes."
He also expressed hope to see his family again.
"I was spiritually reborn in the United States," Philip Cha said. "I wish for the reunification of the North and South, and a better relationship with the United States. And God bless North Korea," he added, saying people there have been through a lot.
Eric Cha explained that North Koreans, like his family, who immigrated to the Chicago area have formed five organizations, according to which province they originated from.
"Ninety nine percent of them want to go back to visit," he said.
The Chas belong to Hwang Hai Do Association, whose president, Chung C. Kim, of Northfield, reacted to the news of Kim Jong Il's death by saying, "As a Korean American living in the United States, I hope all the Korean people, both North and South, calm down and take this in a positive way. We must act properly. I hope there will not be any conflict."
"People are talking about unification, but I think it's not going to happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he added.
Yoon Choi of Buffalo Grove, who was at in Niles Monday, had a more hopeful outlook.
"I hope Kim Jong Il's son will make a new world, hopefully a better one than his father did," Choi said. "Maybe the son will be a good person and get rid of the nuclear weapons."
Most people under the age of 45 in South Korea don't believe there's any danger to them from North Korea, and they minimize the threat of violence, Choi said. Meanwhile, those over 60 all have families in which some members were trapped in the North and they lost contact with them, he said. Many of them want to visit North Korea.
"I'd like to see North Korea too," he said, adding non-North Koreans have visited the country, but are carefully shepherded between hotels and tourist sites and not allowed to go anywhere on their own.
Hee Kim, a Niles restaurant owner who asked that his establishment not be identified, reacted to the North Korean leader's death by saying, "People there (in North Korea) are sad, but I'm happy. He gave a hard time to a lot of Korean people."
It's appropriate that Osama bin Ladin, Moammar Ghaddafi and Kim Jong Il, all notorious dictators or terrorists, all died in the same year, he said.
As to the prospect of whether the coming weeks or months will see unrest, Eric Cha commented that Kim Jong Il's successor is the youngest of three sons, and there's a reason the role went to him.
"He's expected to be more brutal," Cha said. "He pushed his two older brothers aside, to show he could get the job done. He's been groomed to be his father's successor."