Saturday, June 2, 2007
Friday, June 1, 2007
Our UM Chapter hits the road next week. We're going to attend several Florida Philippine Independence Day Celebrations in the next few weeks. Look for us at the locations below. If you want us to come to your Florida community, let us know.
June 9: Philippine Summer Festival
South Florida Fair Expo Center
9067 Southern Boulevard
West Palm Beach, FL 33421
Enter Gate 12 and proceed to Expo West
June 10: Philippines Independence Day Celebration
11:30 am - 6:30 pm
Orlando Marriott Hotel Downtown
400 West Livingston Street
Orlando, FL 32801
* the hotel is across from the Bob Carr performance center
June 16: Kalayaan 2007
Miramar Regional Park and Corporate Pavillion
16801 Miramar Pkwy.
Miramar, FL 33027
June 27: National Alliance to Nurture the Aged and the Youth
NANAY COMMUNITY CENTER
659 N.E. 125 Street
North Miami, Florida 33161
If you want us to come to your festival, community gathering or if you'd like us to present the stories of surviving "Comfort Women" and House Resolution 121 to your organization, email me, M. Evelina Galang, at email@example.com. We are open to all communities, organizations and churches. Laban for House Res 121!
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
People have been asking me how I came to work with LILA Pilipina. All weekend long I have been sharing this story with individuals, so I’ll write about it here. From the start this has been about learning from the courage and the wisdom of our elders. From the start it has been about that search for the lessons our grandmothers give their dalagas as they grow from being rambunctious little girls, to strong intelligent women. From the start the thing that we are between girl and woman – dalaga or tween or teen – has been a source of curiosity to me. It has always been about what the past can teach us about the future.
When my book of short stories, Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press) came out in April of 1996, many young women and girls began writing me about their own experiences growing up Filipina in America. It wasn’t as easy as it looked, it turns out. One young woman in particular, was in high school. She had been suicidal – frustrated that no adult, especially her mother could understand the pressures of being born of two conflicting cultures, of desperately wanting to be a part of one or the other or both, depending on the moment. She wanted her mother to read the book to see how she felt. Her mother was resistant.
In the 1990’s, there was a survey that the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta conducted (twice really) and it claimed that in San Diego, the rate of teen suicide was highest among Filipina American teens. Girls. Pinay. Our little sisters. Of course this statistic was disturbing and somehow surreal because our culture loves our daughters and only wants the best for them so it seemed impossible, and yet it was true and I was hearing versions of this truth in the letters I was receiving from my readers.
Then one night, in a theater in Minneapolis, I saw Pearl Ubungen’s performance of Bamboo Women, an interpretative dance of the testimony of Lola Amonita, a surviving Filipina “Comfort Woman” of WW2.
Pearl's dance was my first introduction to “Comfort Women.” It is only right that a friend would gently bring me to the women through body and dance. What struck me as I watched Pearl’s body flow to the old woman’s words was a strength, an energy, a will bigger than the experience – and that grace gave Lola Amonita the strength to survive. Then come to find out, she was not the only one.
I began to explore this issue, first in books and newspapers and in the archives of the Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. There was not much written. What was there was vague. George L. Hicks had written a book about “Comfort Women” but there were no faces, no names, only numbers, only figures. The concept of “Comfort Women” remained abstract and distant and it did not answer my question.
I wanted to know what was the lesson that these old women, these lolas, had that our young girls, so ready to give up on life, might learn. I searched and found little.
In Washington DC, I discovered the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues. I traveled to McLean, Virginia and I had tea with Dong Woo Lee-Hahm who showed me photographs of Korean "Comfort Women" and handed me several thin books of testimonies.
I learned how far reaching this war crime was: 200,000 women and girls all over Asia, but she had no information on Filipina “Comfort Women.”
Soon I was lead to Gabriela Network in New York. They did not have first hand information, but they had a contact, LILA Pilipina-Gabriela in Manila. LILA Pilipina was an organization of survivors born of Rosa Maria Henson, the first lola to come forward publicly. They had begun their own campaign and were seeking justice on their own behalf. Here it was.
In 1996, Lola Maria Henson’s autobiography, Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny, was published. I was so excited because I was making plans to travel to Manila and I was determined to meet her. But it’s interesting to see what happens when one holds a secret, a shame for so long and finally lets it out in the open to breathe and be. For Lola Henson it was as if the moment she spoke the words, committed them to the page and left evidence of her experiences, that was enough and soon after the publication of her life story, she died.
In 1999, I brought five Filipina American dalagas with me to Quezon City to meet the lolas of LILA Pilipina. We met over forty women. We kissed each one. We held their hands. We danced with them. We laughed with them. We were in search of that lesson.
After reading Lola Henson’s book, one of my students called me, still crying. “I can’t believe how hard she fought to live. I treat my body like shit,” she said, “I just give it away. I can’t believe I’ve been so disrespectful.”
I have a friend who says that sometimes she comes to this blog just to see the women's faces. “I just look at their faces, they are so luminous and beautiful. There’s not a sign of bitterness.”
I shot most of these pictures and I smile when my friend says this because I know that when I hold a lens to my eye, they are looking at me with love, and that love is here, on this blog. This atrocity has not gotten the best of them. Their faith in a higher source is so great. Every time I spoke with one of the women about her experiences and I asked her how she was able to survive, she’d answer, “Sa awa ng Dyos.” Through the mercy of God. Through the Grace of God. The surviving “Comfort Women” are a gift from God, their wisdom, their strength, their dignity has seen them through. They are asking to be recognized, to be heard. They have great lessons of love waiting for each of us. All we need to do is look into their eyes and see it.
This is how I came to know the lolas of LILA Pilipina, this is how I have fallen in love with each and everyone of them, this is how I’ve come to promise them to do my best to fight on their behalf. When people say, how can you listen to such stories? How can you handle it? I think of their faces, what Giovanna calls luminous and beautiful. I think of their hearts and everything I have learned from them. That is how I handle it. And of course, Sa awa ng Dyos.
Monday, May 28, 2007
I went on an amazing weekend conference to West Palm Beach and met with several of the key Filipino American leaders in the state of Florida who represent over 85,000 Filipino American constituents. I was so impressed with their dedication and their agenda concerning the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill, the Immigration Bill and the development of disaster action plans to support local residents in the preparation for and aftermath of hurricanes as well as an outreach program to natural disasters in their ancestral land, the islands of the Philippines. Most exciting is the leadership's desire to educate their communities on the upcoming presidential candidates, the issues and their creation of an action plan to raise voter participation among the Filipino American community in the state of Florida. They are hoping to join forces with the larger Asian Pacific American voting community and working to make some strong and positive changes.
I felt at ease sharing with them the stories of the lolas. Many of the leaders identified with the stories of Lolas Remedios, Prescilla, and Cristeta for they too were children of Leyte. They were in awe because they admitted that growing up there, they had not heard these stories. Of course, the women had been silent for 50 years after the war. Many of us never knew of their stories until recently.
I suppose this is why it is so important to share their lives and their fight for justice. People don't know, but once you hear the stories, like the key leaders of the Filipino-American Coalition of Florida, your hearts go ablaze, and you know the right thing to do.
Here is their hand-written letter to House Speaker Pelosi. Another letter is being drafted to all Congress persons in the state of Florida. And leaders have promised to educate their communities and begin their own letter writing campaigns.
The organizations of the Filipino American Coalition of Florida are also joining 121 Coalition in support of House Resolution 121.
Community is a beautiful thing, no?
May 27, 2007
Honorable Speaker of the House
Washington DC 20515-6501
On Behalf of the Filipino-American communities in Florida, which make up one of the fastest growing populations in the state, we would like to urge your good office to support House Resolution 121, encouraging Japan to take full responsibility and make a formal apology to the 200,000 women and girls of Asia who were subjected to systematic rape and enslavement during WW2, from the Japanese Imperial Army.
Sending a clear message that the trauma inflicted upon these "comfort women" is intolerable, inhumane and unjust -- is the least we can do to make up for the atrocities.
Filipino-American Coalition of Florida
Council for Filipino American Organizations (representing ten Filipino American organizations)
Bataan Corregidor Memorial Foundation
Fil-Am Council of North East Florida (representing 9 Filipino American Organizations)
Knights of Rizal- North East Florida
Filipino Americans of Osceola and South Orlando
Bayanihan Ladies Association
Knights of Rizal - Central Florida
Vismindaluz - Central Florida
Ladies From Rizal- Central Florida
Filipino American Veterans Association, Central Florida
Kahirup Association of Central Florida
Philippine Chamber of Commerce of Orlando
Faith Foundation of Orlando
National Alliance to Nurture the Aged and Youth (NANAY, Inc. Miami)
Philippine-American Federation of South Florida