Saturday, May 19, 2007

Manila Town Heritage Center


Annabel Park and I were running all over the Bay Area this week, sharing stories of the lolas with the Filipino American Community. We would introduce the subject and screen the mini-documentary of Lola Dolor and then students from San Francisco State University would read survivors' testimonies. Our final event was in the historical site were the International Hotel, a hotel for Chinese and Filipino immigrants, once stood.

At the Manila Town Heritage Center, a small but powerful group came together to share the testimonies of surviving Filipina "Comfort Women" on Thursday, May 17, 2007.

All week long, it moved me to watch the faces of the youth and the adults who had never imagined their lolas' in the same position as Lola Dolor or Lola Prescilla, or Lola Christeta. Yet, as the stories unfolded many of the people we talked to all over the Bay Area, especially the students at City College and San Francisco State, began to share the memories of their grandmothers.

We encountered more than one family member whose mother or grandmother or great aunt was also a survivor of the Japanese Imperial Army's rape camps.

Those U.S. families with ancestors who survived Japanese "Comfort Stations" can really do something to support their lolas, their aunties and their mothers -- especially if the descendants are living in the 12th and 8th districts in California. You can write Congressman Lantos. You can write House Speaker Pelosi.

During a visit to Congressman Lantos' district office, Evelyn Szelenyi, District Director told us that hand written letters from voters in Lantos' district are the most effective tool they have to pass H.R. 121. "One letter," she said, "is like 100 voices. One phone is like 10."

Your words matter. Your Congress person will listen. It takes two seconds to write a short note expressing your concern. That one letter, imagine, is as good as 100 voices. Let yours be the one to move Congressman Lantos or House Speaker Pelosi.

So important are those letters that while I was in the Bay Area speaking, I told each crowd that I would personally hand deliver their letters to the district offices. In all we gathered about 120 letters for both offices. 1200 voices revealed their need to see justice for the surviving "Comfort Women" and their families.

Think about it, if there were 200,000 women and girls all over Asia taken by the Japanese Imperial Army and at least 1000 of them were Filipina, and of that number only 173 of them have come forward, what happened to the remaining 827 (at least if not more)?

The students nodded at me and said, "They're living among us still."

Our leaders want to do the right thing, but they cannot move without your consent. They cannot act unless they understand this is what their constituents need.

We should all be writing Congress, but those in the Bay Area may truly change the course of history. Congressman Lantos is the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Congresswoman Pelosi is our Speaker of the House. They are the key leadership who will guide this resolution to its natural end. See to it that they know what you want, give them direction. Let it be known (and here I am talking to my brothers and sisters in the Filipino American Community) that we support the women who despite these atrocities have been graced with the strength to carry on, to live lives with dignity and love. They deserve their justice.

I include some of the letters written this week to Lantos and Pelosi. They speak for themselves:


Dear Congresswoman Pelosi,
I am a Filipina American citizen who lives in your district and I have read House Resolution 121 asking for a formal apology by the Japanese government to the Asian women who were raped and abused during WW2. I support House Resolution 121 because my lola (grandmother) suffered from the abuse and humiliation of Japanese soldiers during the war, especially when they invaded the Philippines and established garrisons to capture Filipino women. My lola's memories and experiences are my history and her struggles are my struggles. I ask that you please support House Resolution 121 and demand that the House of Representatives, Senate and Congress come to a full vote and pass it.

Sincerely,
R.M.A.
San Francisco, CA 94112


Dear Congressman Lantos,
I am a Filipina American woman and I have read and support House Resolution 121. I am saddened by the state of events that have occurred in the lives of these women. I would like to have a resolution passed because these women have lived a lifetime in secret and deserve a semblance of dignity and honor. As a woman who has endured sexual abuse, I can honestly say that an apology will allow these women to be free of their past, a freedom long overdue. Please support House Resolution 121 because it could have been your mother, grandmother, wife or daughter.

Sincerely,
E.M.
San Francisco, CA 94117


Dear Congressman Tom Lantos,
I am a Japanese American citizen who lives in your district. I have read House Resolution 121 and support it because as a woman, I know that it is my responsibility to be by any woman's side through any struggle. This resolution is important to me and I ask you to support it too. Please mark up House Resolution 121.

V.M.
Daly City, CA 94015


Dear Nancy Pelosi,
I am a Filipino immigrant and I have been living in the U.S. for 15 years. My grandparents petitioned my family to come to the U.S. due to his service in WWII. This resolution is personal to me because the stories of these women deserve to be heard. Please bring House Resolution 121 to full vote.

A.A.
Hayward, CA 94544


House Resolution 121 is at a crucial phase. We would like the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos' committee, to mark it up. In the next few days your letters and phone calls are a strong and powerful tool. I urge you to express yourself. Write to them. Call them. Email them. Not just Pelosi and Lantos but all members of Congress.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

House Speaker Speaks



May 7, 2007

As we work on legislation to improve lives for the future, we must remember the challenges from the past. World War II set the stage for courageous acts of heroism, but at the same time generated acts of grave injustice and discrimination. I salute the Filipino Veterans who fought bravely during World War II and join them in their fight for full veterans' benefits. I recognize the courage of the remaining "comfort women" and will work to ensure that their rights are protected.


From the statement of House Speaker Pelosi on the occasion of Representative Mike Honda's lead on a special order on the Floor to commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Let us applaud the Speaker's great and noble intentions.

Filipino American Lit at SFSU Activates Their Voices and Their Pens



I walked into Allyson Titiangco-Cubales' Filipino American Lit final and it was WILD. There were 50 students hungry for the truth. Six students read the testimonies of six surviving Filipina "Comfort Women" and then the whole class, including some who were not even part of the class and who had traveled from other parts of the Bay Area, sat down in their desks and wrote. Below is a letter from Michelle Ramos to her Congressman and the Chair of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos. See the truth in the shape of her words ...

Dear Congressman Lantos,

I am writing you in concern of the injustice toward the "Comfort Women" of the Japanese Imperial Arm during WWII. For years their stories have been held silent and not recognized. Women and girls as young as twelve were taken and used for sexual service night after night. Abduction and systematic rape have extreme consequences to the physical and mental body of a woman -- and as a woman I cannot even imagine such horror pitted toward me or anyone else. There were so many women, but where are their stories? Many women did not survive from this and many others are so scarred that talking about these experiences surfaces painful memories. Just having heard these stories brings a flood of tears and pain that strikes my heart -- No one deserves to be raped! I as well as these women know that they deserve at least an apology from the Japanese government -- it won't fix the past, but it will start building a bridge for healing.

I am a resident living in your district and I urge you to mark up HR 121. These women deserve to be recognized because injustice should not stay silent.

Sincerely,
Michelle Ramos
San Francisco 94132

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

COME OUT TO HEAR THE WOMEN'S STORIES


Annabel Park, the leading Washington DC organizer of 121 Coalition and I have finally met here in the Bay Area and we've joined forces!

More than anything, the two of us want to bring together the PAN ASIAN community here in the Bay Area and have them hear the stories of the surviving "Comfort Women" of WW2. Filmmaker Dai Sil Kim once said that once the stories (of the women) enter your body and settle in your bones, you cannot sit still.

It is so true. Maybe because the voices of the women sound like our mothers, our sisters, our lolas and greatgrandmothers too. Maybe because the element of war brings out the worst and effects the most innocent.

We want to support the women in their struggle for justice. We want to do that so that we as a culture can learn from these experiences and never let war affect our peple like this again.

I encourage anyone in the Bay Area to share our activities with their friends and colleagues and family. Come hear their voices and support them.

How can you support them, Bay Area? By encouraging and supporting your representatives, Congressman Lantos and Congresswoman Pelosi to also support House Res 121. Write them a personl note and share with them your concern. They are open and willing to hear from you and I am sure under your direction, they will know what to do.

This is my invitation to you all. Come out and hear the women's stories! Tonight and tomorrow night. Schedule below.

121 Coalition Bay Area Blast!


We had a great time tonight at the Filipino Community Center! 40 students and community members showed up to hear six Bay Area Pinay Poets reading testimonies of surviving Filipina "Comfort Women." While Annabel Park and I talked about House Resolution 121 and the need for our communities to make their voices known on this vital issue.

Many thanks to the local team here, my Pinay sisters Allyson Titiangco-Cubales, Claudine del Rosario, Marianne Villanueva, Katrina of the Bay Area Gabriela Network -- and Laarni San Juan and so mny others.

Check out the schedule below and share it with all your friends.

Thanks,
Evelina


Tuesday May 15, 2007
LABAN FOR THE LOLAS: FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHTS OF "COMFORT WOMEN"
Emergency Meeting and Informational Session on House Resolution 121
Program: Special Presentation and Reading Featuring M. Evelina Galang
Along with Barbara Reyes Bermeo, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Claudine
delRosario, Korina Jocson, Jocyl Sacramento, and Michelle Ferrer
Time: 6-8:30 P.M.
Location: The Filipino Community Center
35 San Juan Avenue/ Cross Street is Mission San Francisco, CA

Wednesday May 16, 2007
Event: For the Dignity of Girls and Women Everywhere, Bear Witness...
Program: Reading of Testimonies of Japanese Military "Comfort Station" Survivors
Read by Actresses, Activists & Community Leaders
Time: 7:30pm-9:30pm
Location: BRAVA Theater
2781 24th Street • San Francisco, CA 94110 • (415) 641-7657

Thursday May 17, 2007
Event: LABAN FOR THE LOLAS: FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHTS OF "COMFORT WOMEN"
Emergency Meeting and Informational Session on House Resolution 121
Program: Special Presentation and Reading Featuring M. Evelina Galang
Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm (time not yet confirmed)
Location: Manilatown Center
868 Kearny Street (at Jackson) • San Francisco CA 94103 • 415-777-1130

Friday May 18, 2007
Press Conference with Global Alliance and Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition - To Be Announced

Saturday May 19, 2007
121 Coalition Outreach Volunteers at Asian American Heritage Month Events
Event: AsianWeek Street Fair
Location: D owntown South of Market area in San Francisco, on Howard Street between 5th and 7th Streets. ( Maplink)
Time: 11 a.m. 6 p.m.
http://www.asianfairsf.com/

Event: KTSF Family Fair
Location: Paramount's Great America • 701 Great America Parkway • Santa Clara, CA
Time: 11am-8pm
http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/store/asianfamilyheritagecelebration.html

Monday, May 14, 2007

From the testimony of Lola Cristeta Alcober, Tacloban City, Leyte



My brother and I were forced to walk about one kilometer and were brought to the garrison of the Japanese Army, which was situated near the airstrip along the beach of San Jose (Leyte).

Three days after I was taken there, I was raped by Japanese soldiers. That night, Japanese soldiers came to our hut and picked almost all of thirty women, including me. We were taken to the nearby beach. There were forty to fifty soldiers waiting for us and immediately started raping us under the coconut trees and banana trees. Since I resisted when I was going to be raped for the first time, I was slapped and fell to the ground. As I hit the left side of my body very hard, I broke my left collarbone. Yet, the Japanese soldiers mercilessly stabbed my groin with a bayonet while I was lying on the ground and started raping me not even minding my bleeding. That night, I was continuously raped by many soldiers. It was already 6 o’clock in the following morning when I was finally taken back to the hut. I was not able to receive any treatment for my broken collarbone and the wound in my groin. The following day, I was told to join the hard labor during the daytime as usual. There was nothing I could do but work. Because of this my left shoulder is still deformed.

Since then every night I was raped by two or three soldiers, or by as many as eight to nine soldiers. Every night, three soldiers came to pick up about ten of us as a group. We were handed over to other Japanese soldiers at the beach. It seemed some soldiers had come over from other garrisons and they used to wait in line for their turns. I felt as if raping went on and on endlessly day in and day out. Those soldiers who used to come to the hut to pick us up sometimes joined in the rape. Even during my period, I was forced to serve the sexual needs of the Japanese soldiers. They told me to wipe the menstrual flow with my clothes during intercourse and kept raping me pitilessly.

Since I had no sexual experience, no knowledge whatsoever before I was put into this situation, I got so terrified and upset by being forced to sexually service the Japanese soldiers. At that time I was so scared of the Japanese that even the sight of a cap, a uniform, or a pair of pants of a Japanese soldier struck terror in my heart. Those soldiers who used to come to our hut to pick us up would say, “Okay suksok? Patay ka.” (Do you consent? Or do you want to die?) In such a situation, I could not do anything but be taken from the hut as the Japanese soldiers ordered and to sexually service them.


Above, Lola Cristeta stands on the shores of San Jose Beach in Leyte, where she was held captive by Japanese Soldiers. Below, is the view from San Jose Beach.
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