Saturday, April 7, 2007

Lola Catalina Lorenzo: An Excerpt From LOLAS' HOUSE

In a room of about forty women, Lola Catalina Lorenzo smiles at everyone sweetly, leaning back in her plastic chair. She seems indifferent to the chatter. At the very edge of the circle of women, her eyes dart back and forth, following the other women’s words. It begins in a whisper. They take turns. Each one speaks a little louder than the last. The words get faster and I must strain to keep up. My ear is not yet used to the language, to the accents, to the speed of the tongue. Soon, each woman leaps into the conversation just as the other finishes. The gaps between the women’s comments dissolve and they begin to speak over each other’s words. Lola Catalina leans forward, thinking, listening. She pulls her chair further into the circle. She leans on both elbows. The camera pans to the other side of the room and one of the more dramatic lolas is pounding on her chest, crying. And even as this lola recites her grievances, her arms waving in the air like white flags, Lola Catalina’s voice shouts from off camera: “Filipinos did not fight in the war!” The camera swish pans to the left and a blur of light streaks across the screen. “The Filipinos were quiet. Then the Americans came and they made a playground out of the Philippines!” Her little body shoots up from its seat and suddenly, this eight-five year old woman takes command of the entire space.

Lola Catalina mimics the Japanese planes of World War Two. She places her hands in prayer position before her heart and then climbs the skies with those hands clasped, reaching above her head, the hands in flight, moving across the room. Her body dances before a window and the sun blazes behind her, erasing the expressions on her face. The light pushes through her floral skirt and we can see her legs, bent and wiry. Her shadow darts about the room, circles fellow survivors, a few organizers and my five Filipino American students and I. “It is as if they are slicing the sky,” she says now separating her long thin arms as if there are shards of blue falling around her. I see a hand reach up to pull her down, someone attempts to pet her, to calm her, but she cannot stop now. “Ingat, Lola,” calls out a voice, a warning. Everything she ever thought in these fifty years of silence unravels before us. “What do you think? We don’t need their money, we need their sincere apology, we need justice. Americans and Japanese – did you see what they did to our country? To our women? To our families?”

My students and I want to connect with our ancestry "back home." We want to go to the places where our parents were born, to the houses where our grandparents still live, to find our place in this world, in this culture. But we are met with distrust, with frowns. Lola Catalina Lorenzo was born in Tondo, a district in Manila. Her father and my father come from Macabebe, Pampanga. I am immediately drawn to her. But she is looking at me like I am a dangerous criminal, shooting those words right at me. “Even if the whole world knows what they did to the Philippines, it will be very hard to make up for it. That’s why, what you’re doing, you’ll never really know. But me, I am old. I know what they did here.”

Too many strangers have come their way with the same mission. Too many well meaning Americans and Japanese and who knows who else have traveled thousands of miles only to charm these ladies, feed them, kiss them, put their fat, first-world arms around their tiny third world frames only to abandon them. No, not again, Lola Catalina is saying. No. You are all responsible.

We fear Lola Catalina may collapse, that a heart hot with such passion might give out in a body so small, and bones so frail. I want to tell her I too am Capampangan. I can say come here -- me kenne -- and I can say yes –oah. My last name means respect in Tagalog. I am the daughter of Miguel Trinidad Galang and the granddaughter of Miguel Galang senior who was a soldier in the Filipino army and a dentist who served all of Macabebe. The Galang house in Macabebe is across the street from the elementary school, the place the Japanese soldiers took and made into a garrison. I have been raised in Wisconsin among the descendants of the Germans and the Poles, but I have been raised with the same values Lola Catalina's family instilled in her. More than anything, I want her to see me as I am and to trust me. But on this first day, in June of 1999, her hands flutter fast like knives slicing the air, her voice begins down in the very bottom of her feet and pushes up like a volcano erupting and her words splatter the air.

From “Love Story #1”

Friday, April 6, 2007

Abe's Denial

Here's a great link that carries many articles about Abe's Denial. On Chinese in Vancouver, you can find many of the same articles listed on the sidebar to your right. I have tried to keep the list updated, so if you come across an article and it's not listed on the sidebar, let me know. I think it's important to read all that's out there -- the truth and the half truth and the propaganda that supports Abe's Denial. Do the homework and know the truth.

I'm excited to see college students at my university joining the fight! We started a group on facebook and in a couple of days we have a few hundred members. We're hosting a round table and creating an action plan. I will let you know how it goes, but we're certain we can raise the list of signatories and House Resolution 121 supporters up by a few thousand. Are there other campuses out there willing to do the same? I see several other facebook groups fighting for the comfort women. Can you take up the challenge and get your campus involved? For your mothers? For your grandmothers? For your sisters?

Read everything you can. Let the truth speak for itself. And once you know the truth, do what you think is right. We are responsible for what we know.

That link?

PS: The comfort woman in the far right corner near the top is Lola Virginia Villarma from LILA Pilipina. The women on that poster represent the women all over Asia. They are Abe's Denial.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Dalaga Project

In June of 1998, I traveled with five of my Filipina American students to research a film script, DALAGA. Dalaga is that moment in between girl and woman and the story was about a dalaga and her lola, her grandmother. What the dalaga finds out in the course of the story is that her beautiful and wise and compassionate lola is a surviving Comfort Woman of WWII. My students and I went to meet the Lolas of LILA Pilipina because I wanted the characters' perspectives to be honest. I wanted to do my homework before writing the story. When Ana Fe, Tara, Nehle, Mia and Lizzie and I got there, we expected to see sad women, beaten women, tortured women. But what we found were strong and funny and joyous women. Women who despite the abuse to their bodies and spirits had survived. We found women full of energy to fight for their much deserved justice. Between action alerts and marches, they taught us how to tango and we taught them how to raise the roof. We painted murals of our lives -- the dalgas and the lolas drawing their experiences on canvas. We taught each other English and Tagalog and some of us inadvertently got lessons in Waray or Visayan or Ilocano.We got to know each other. We fell in love with them and they adopted us and called us their apo, though at first they did not think we were really Pinay at all. So when they each shared their stories with us, their experiences of abduction and their day to day lives as military sex slaves, our hearts broke. When we role played and the lolas played the role of Japanese soldiers and the dalagas and I were the comfort girls, we felt a mix of anger, fear and violation and knew it was only the surface of their lived experience. We would ask them how they did it. How did they survive? Pa ano, Lola? How, Lola? And do you what they told us, over and over again-- Sa awa ng Dyos. Through the mercy of God. This is an image from our shared journal where the dalagas and I wrote down the stories as we began to live them.

Lola Josefa Villamore Waiting for Japan to Take Full Responsiblity for their War Crimes

April 3, 2007

Dear Friends,

Above is photograph of Lola Josefa Villamore standing in the space of her former garrison, San Augstin Church near Santa Rosa College in Manila.

The international petition to support House Resolution 121 has grown and 1253 private citizens from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Thailand, France, Australia, The Netherlands, Italy, The Philippines, China, Sweden, England, India and other nations have signed. Mostly supporters of the 200,000 Comfort Women have signed the petition, but survivors too have signed. It is an amazing document of human compassion and a clear cry for justice. You need only read the comments left to see how urgent the plea.

In three weeks Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in the United States — April 26-27 — and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has informed me that they are going to wait to take action on the issue until then. Please join me in the campaign to gather more signatures. Imagine a document that had a living name for every woman that suffered during WWII. 200,000. Imagine making the effort and not reaching that daunting number. Imagine the statement that would make.

Please ask your friends, your family and your colleagues to think about their own families and to imagine a war where their own daughters, sisters, wives and mothers are abducted and subjected to the same systematic rape and enslavement. Let us make sure the world knows we are making every effort to stop those actions from ever occurring again.

Let us gather 200,000 names to honor the 200,000 women.

To sign the petition go to

With great respect for the work you are all doing --

Monday, April 2, 2007

Why Has Such A Bias View Prevailed?

The YOMIURI DAILY has published three “installments” meant to dispel the “so-called ‘comfort women’ controversy.”

On March 31st, in the second of three installments, the article, which does not appear in the editorial pages, but in national news, states the following:

The U.S. House of Representatives has been deliberating a draft resolution calling for the Japanese government to apologize over the matter by spurning the practice as slavery and human trafficking. Why has such a biased view of the issue prevailed?

The issue of the so-called comfort women has been brought up repeatedly because misunderstandings that the Japanese government and the Imperial Japanese Army forced women into sexual servitude have not been completely dispelled.

The government has admitted the Imperial Japanese Army's involvement in brothels, saying that "the then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women." The "involvement" refers to giving the green light to opening a brothel, building facilities, setting regulations regarding brothels, such as fees and opening hours, and conducting inspections by army doctors.

However, the government has denied that the Japanese military forcibly recruited women. On March 18, 1997, a Cabinet Secretariat official said in the Diet, "There is no evidence in public documents that clearly shows there were any forcible actions [in recruiting comfort women]." No further evidence that could disprove this statement has been found.

I thought about disputing these ideas, but until the Japanese government and its Imperial Army deal with the comfort women directly, until the government and its Imperial Army respond to their stories, to their experiences, to their wounds and to the illnesses of the body, mind and spirit, there is no point.

If the editors of YOMIURI DAILY want to clear up the controversy of the WWII Comfort Women, answer the women directly. They have spoken. The installments speak around the women, yet the women stand before our global community and they are asking Japan to explain. To apologize. To take responsibility. Answer the husbands, the mothers, the fathers, the brothers and sisters, the children and grandchildren. Answer the people.

If the Japanese Imperial Army did not take the women by force, if they did not hold the women against their will, if they did not rape them repeatedly every day, then how does one respond to 200,000 women and their testimonies?

The comfort women from LILA Pilipina speak from the heart, they carry the evidence on their bodies and their words are the public documents that express not only the coercion in “recruiting comfort women,” but in the treatment they received while under captivity.

Today, someone anonymously sent Laban! Fight for Comfort Women a link to the Yomiuri articles. Thank you for sending them, but I am already aware of them and have posted them under the International Media Links. I have set them along side of the other articles and I encourage readers to weigh that propaganda against the stories of Lola Remedios, Lola Naricisa, Lola Ashang, Lola Pilar, Lola Piedad and all the other lolas I have yet to mention.

And of course there are the thousands of women throughout Asia whose stories live with their families, with their friends and with their supporters. I ask that all comfort women – survivors and friends of survivors unite, record the testimonies, make them known. Create public documents. Carve the stories of their lives on our backs so no one will forget and everyone will know, even when they’re gone.