Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Retain "Comfort Women" Issue for ALL Women: An Update

I have had the opportunity, of late, to speak about WWII "Comfort Women" at readings and workshops and other venues.  After a White House Briefing to Filipino Americans, I updated community leaders from across the nation.  The Lolas are lost in all these reports -- as are "Comfort Women" from China, Dutch-Indonesia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Australia.  Japan would have you believe this is a Japanese/Korean thing -- a little dispute between nations with traditionally rocky relations.  It is not.  200,000 women and girls across Asia were taken hostage and placed into military sex-slave camps during WWII by the Japanese Imperial Army.  It is a human rights issue.  It is a treat our women with respect issue.

Tokyo Courts, Thank you

There is hope after all.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"They Used Us"

This documentary produced by a history class in Enderun features the Lolas of LILA Pilipina -- Lola Virgie Villamar, Lola Dolor Molinas among them -- also LILA Pilipina Executive Director Rechilda Extremadura.  I was moved to tears by the work of these students.  What a great project and a noble act, to sit with the survivors and listen.  To process the stories and then to share.  Thank you.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Let's Build a Living Monument

I have been, as you know, researching and writing about Filipina "Comfort Women," since 1998.  Every time I talk about them, I never fail to mention that they were among 200,000 women and girls all over Asia.  Perhaps the drive that most Koreans feel to fight for their "Comfort Women" has galvanized their community and made their voices so loud and strong, Korean "Comfort Women" are the ones most known to the public, but they are among the 200,000 and too often the other communities (many who have been silent out of not knowing or because of cultural shame) go unnoticed.  Now Japan, seizing this opportunity, is hoping to isolate the issue between the two countries.  In this way, they begin to erase the past.  It’s no longer a crime against humanity then – it’s an issue between Japan and Korea.  But that’s not true and we all know it.  And as the monument stands in Palisades Park, New Jersey, and the plan to name a street in Flushing, New York becomes real, the Japanese government grows “irritated.” 

To this end, I am hoping to gather as many artists as I can who are working on this issue to draw and paint, and write and speak the stories of all women who have suffered this injustice.  Because no matter what their nationality, those women are our women.  Are the women who we become and who our daughters grow to be.  Of course, this is how humanity works.  The past is a seed that we plant in our bodies, our minds and spirits and how we live, how we treat each other and how we learn from our past determines who we are.

Anyway, that's my drive on this project and I welcome each of you to join me.  Right now I am helping Sean Kim in LA curate an exhibit by reaching out to the Filipino/Filipino American community.  I am also supporting Chejin Park and his community as he works to create an exhibit in DC.  But I am also gathering as many interested artists and writers as I can because I would like to make a living monument.  Built on our breath and drawn on the stories of the “Comfort Women” of WWII.  Yes, my Lolas of LILA Pilipina, but all the women -- the Dutch, the Indonesian, the Chinese, Australians, the Koreans and even the Japanese.

Please share this with your artists, musicians, your writers and poets.  Share with yourselves.  Dream the pieces into reality.  I am interested in honoring our past.

Write me:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Visit to the Monument in Palisades Park, NJ: Calling all Artists, Filmmakers, Song Writers, Poets and Storytellers to Action

On top of the "Comfort Women" monument in Palisades Park, NJ, there are these notes in Korean and Japanese, held down by stones and blessed by these two carnations. I am told the notes are asking those around the monument to regard this sacred space with respect -- it is not a playground, it is not just any statue. What I note is that these messages are in Japanese and Korean, but not in English, not in Tagalog and not in any other language.  Perhaps it is the practicality of the matter -- many of the residents in Palisades Park are Korean -- still, this in an international issue and a crime not against not only Koreans, but all humanity. Remember that during WWII the Japanese Imperial Army took 200,000 women and girls from all over Asia -- including China, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Korea. Japan would like nothing more than to isolate this between Korea and Japan, make the issue smaller than it is. Make it disappear. Are you willing to do that? And those in the Filipino American and Filipino communities -- what about our lolas? Consider what you can do to make our voices known, to keep this story in our history books and call it what it is: A crime against humanity.

It seems that every time I am ready to delve into another revision of my book on Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII, Japanese government officials make noise (Last time, in 2007, Shinzo Abe said, “there wasn’t enough evidence to prove "Comfort Women" were coerced.”), as if to distract me from telling the stories of 15 Filipina “Comfort Women” who survived that human rights atrocity, to stop me from the task that has been building up inside me for so long.  Little do they know that every time they rise up in denial (most recently the NYT said the monument in Palisades Park “irritated Japanese officials”), every time they try to push another into silence, they inspire me.  They make me itch to write that book with such energy – so much energy that I must meet other activists, I must join them in their work, I must answer every email that comes my way.  No, this is not a distraction, these reactions from Japan.  These are inspirations.

Last Friday afternoon, in quiet and wild anticipation, I took the 166 bus from Port Authority to Palisades Park, NJ.  I got off on Broad Avenue and Brinkerhoff and I walked the little neighborhood to the public library.  Just out of the car park, next to the driveway they had placed the monument on a tiny grass knoll,  surrounded it by newly planted trees and shrubs.  Hardly anyone was around and no one saw me as I walked onto the grass.  I stood silently.  I listened, just in case there were Lolas with me (in spirit, of course) or Korean grandmothers singing in the wind.  I stood silent.  I listened to what the monument said.  It was only waist high.  On it, one of artist Steve Cavallo’s soldiers stood with his back to the street and arms stretched out, giving orders to the Korean woman on the ground.  To protect her heart, she curled her arms around her bent knees.  She could not look at him.  Behind them, the rising sun.  The monument powerfully demonstrates the relationship between 200,000 Asian women and girls of WWII and their captors, soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army.   This is what art does, right? When governments fail to do justice to their people, when it seems all have stopped listening and are moving forward with their days, it is the monument on the lawn, the painting in a gallery, the book on your shelf, or the spoken word poem singing from the open mic that makes us understand what’s really going on.

I had a wonderful conversation with Steve Cavallo. He was drawn into the cause when he began researching, developing and creating his Play Army Series  -- a powerful meditation on war and its affects on people.  Among them were Korean Comfort Women.  With the Japanese delegations requesting Palisades Park remove this powerful memory to WWII Comfort Women, Steve has found his way into the history books as he too, in his way, fights for justice. 

Talking with him and speaking with Chejin Park, a Korean American community leader, it has become abundantly clear that we cannot let these stories disappear because they make Japanese officials “irritated” or “upset” or “unsettled.”  200,000 women and girls, some who have grown full lives and have passed on, some who never escaped the madness of that torture of systematic rape --  2000,000 women and girls were not simply inconvenienced, distracted, or caught unaware. 

We should all be building monuments.  Why?  To remember.  To heal.  To know that even if the perpetrators and their government ancestors refuse to acknowledge the truth, we know the truth.  And we are not about to let it happen again.  Not ever.

If you have artwork, stories, poems, films or songs that you have created for the comfort women, contact me. I am working with other activists to gather all our voices.  We would like to create an exhibit that demonstrates this history is not isolated to the Japanese and the Koreans and it is not a story that is simply about vengeance.  The capture and systematic raping of 200,000 women and girls all over Asia is part of the fabric of our world history, it is crime committed against humanity – and we must learn about it, remember it, take lessons from it and make sure it never happens again. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rising Bigger than the Supermoon

I want to build a monument bigger than Lady Liberty herself. I want her to have wings and magic fairy dust. I want her to be able to fly around the globe and light up the sky as bright as the supermoon. I want her to be a singing monument, with a pitch so high and light and true butterflies will hear and know.  I want her to transport Japanese officials back to that war and make them sit like flies on walls of "comfort stations."  I want them to see the girls -- girls not big enough to grow hips to hold men, or breasts to feed their hunger. I want them to witness the atrocities of war, these crimes against humanity and then I want to see if they are irritated. Hell, I am irritated. Let the monument rise, loom larger than life, cast a glow across all our faces.

Or maybe I will build my very own monument that nobody can tear down.  I will use syllables and lines.  I will use white space.  I will build on images.  I will grow the monument on details born of Lola Precilla,  Narcissa, Cristeta and all the LILA women.  It will be a house with a foundation built on truth and each brick will be the story of one of the 200,000 women and girls used in that war.  From the windows will shine their light and everyone will see.   I will erect a monument taller than the tallest Pinay.  With a voice so plain and a story so big this monument will shadow that same supermoon, blind us all, strike the culprits down.  No more hiding.  No more silence. No more twisting truth.  The monument will be a book so big not even the Library of Congress will be able to hold it.  And the history so clear that even the dead will finally close their eyes. Will rest in peace.  And maybe then, there will be healing. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Response to Japanese Counsel Gen's request to take down "Comfort Women" Memorial in Palisades Park, NJ.

Truth # one billion and ninety-one (my truth):

When I was in first grade Catholic school, a boy in my class, we'll call him Glen O, used to chase me around the playground, tackle me and kiss me. I guess he thought I was cute. He used to have a bigger boy, we'll call him What's His Name, a third grader, help him chase me down, hold me down so Glen O could wrap his nasty little arms around me and smack me with a kiss. It was always the same game every recess, every lunch hour.  Every time the bell rang to set us free.

I asked them to stop. I might have even shouted.  I tried my best. They would not.

So I told Sister -- we'll call her Tall Sister in the Black Habit who Taught Third Graders -- I told that one about her student, What's His Name. She brought me into the class, she said, which boy? I pointed to What's His Name.

The next time I was standing in line, waiting to board that orange yellow school bus, Glen O tapped me on the shoulder, a smile on his wicked first grader face and before anything could happen, What's His Name stepped up and pulled him away, told him to leave me alone.

I see it now, even as I write (without a shaky voice). We should all speak our truth. And those who are to blame, so ashamed of your mistakes, own it. Do not cover up. Do not ignore. Do not invent new lies. And certainly do no more harm. The truth wins out. Every time.

This memory came to me as I read the news that the Japanese Counsel General in NYC has offered the city of Palisades, NJ "help" with city projects in return of the removal of Palisades Park's memorial to WWII "Comfort Women."

Naku naman, is there no end?

To the Lolas and all the 200,000 "Comfort Women" of WWII -- Summer is here and I am going back to your book. Slow to come, but near.