Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Lolas are at the Palace Again: Voltaire Tupaz's article on Rappler.com

Comfort women: 'Hustisya para sa mga lola'

 VOLTAIRE TUPAZ
POSTED ON 07/27/2013 8:10 PM  | UPDATED 07/27/2013 10:04 PM
COMFORT WOMEN. Viictims of abuse of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II and their supporters stage a picket outside Malacanang during the meeting of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Benigno Aquino III. Photo by EPA/Dennis Sabangan
MANILA, Philippines - While the President suggested the Philippines has moved on from its historic conflict with Japan, "comfort women" said they have not.
President Benigno Aquino III, in his toast during the state luncheon in honor of visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday, July 27, said: "Mr Prime Minister, the relations between our countries have been extensive and historic. After overcoming conflict, we have developed both a strong alliance and a deep friendship."
Outside the Palace gates, a group of comfort women were still crying for justice. "PM Shinzo Abe, we are victims of Japan's military's sexual slavery," the women lamented.
At least 200,000 Asian victims, including Filipino women and girls, were believed to have been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II in what was termed as "comfort stations." Survivors and their families have been demanding an official apology and legal redress from Japan.
"Mahina at matanda na kami. Kilos na!" a placard read. (We're weak and old. Act now!)
Apology
US-based Filipina author M. Evelina Galang, who has written extensively on the plight of Filipina comfort women, lamented that Aquino and Abe did not include the issue in their agenda.
"PNoy is a nice man, but like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Erap Estrada, he has yet to acknowledge and honor and support the women of his nation, the lolas (grandmothers)," Galang told Rappler.
"People should know that the comfort women standing at the gates must now be in their late 80s and 90s protesting. Many have died," Galang added.
She noted that in Korea, the comfort women are recognized, honored, and supported by their own government.
"It took the women 50 years to step forward and tell their stories. Their demands are simple: They want Japan to make a formal apology to the women and their families. They want violence against women to end. They want justice," Galang said.
The writer recently completed her soon to be published book, "Lola's House: Women Living with War," which chronicles stories of 15 Filipina comfort women.
No evidence of sexual slavery?
Japan refuses to recognize its historical responsibility for the lmperial Armed Force's coercion of young women into sexual slavery during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
In 2007, Abe made a controversial statement that deviated from the widely accepted historical account of Japanese wartime atrocities.
"There was no evidence to prove there was coercion as initially suggested. That largely changes what constitutes the definition of coercion, and we have to take it from there," Abe said.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi earlier wrote a personal letter apologizing to the comfort women. In 2002, he said that the involvement of the Japanese military in the issue of comfort women during the war was “a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women.”
But Galang insisted that what the comfort women and their advocates want is the Japanese government's acknowledgment and apology.
"A personal apology is not the same thing as legislation from the Japanese government declaring their remorse over these crimes against humanity," Galang said.
Galang, considered one of the 100 most influential Filipinas in the US, advocated for the passage of House Resolution 121, the US Congressional Bill that asks Japan to make a formal apology.
STATE VISIT. The visit of Prime Minister Abe seeks to advance the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Japan. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau/Ryan Lim

Strategic partnership
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs in previous statements emphasized the "importance of adhering to the language and tone" of Koizumi's apology.
But Aquino did not delve into the issue that has haunted the country and comfort women for years since the war ended.
"Moving forward, the Philippines fully intends to deepen our relationship with Japan so that we may bequeath to younger generations a legacy of prosperity, peace and productive solidarity between our countries," Aquino said.
Aquino's Japanese counterpart vowed to strength the strategic partnership of the two countries, pledging to help boost the Philippines’ maritime security and to extend other forms of aid.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

North Bay Report: "Comfort Women Radio: Interview 23 June 2012


Liga Ng Mga Lolang Pilipina (LILA Pilipina) protesting before the Japanese Embassy in Manila, Philippines.  2001


Every time a Japanese politician denies the story of the WWII "Comfort Women" and speaks out of turn in an attempt to silence the women's testimonies, in an attempt to erase them from Japanese history, in an attempt to justify the need for "Comfort Stations" they remind us all of the brutal and inhumane acts perpetrated against all our humanity—and in particular against 200,000 women and girls who might have been our grandmothers, our aunts, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters. Definitely, our ancestors. Your words back fire every time, Shinzo Abe, Toru Hashimoto and the rest of your parties. And their stories become clearer. And here is the truth: your government supported and allowed your soldiers to systematically treat women, girls and even some boys like animals. 

Until a formal and lasting apology is served, one that not only accepts the government's responsibilities in organizing, supporting, and maintaining these military sex slave camps, we will continue to tell the stories. 

So listen up. 

Here is an interview I gave last year to the North Bay Report. Click the link to hear the North Bay Report on "Comfort Women."


"Comfort Women"/North Bay Report Interview with M. Evelina Galang 23 June 2012



Japan Obstructs Justice for the Filipino "Comfort Women"


Legislation in the Filipino parliament was derailed and the government has deferred to Japan by never giving the women the recognition and support they deserve. Filipino boys were also used in the Comfort System. Despite memoirs and witnesses, this issue has never been even discussed.  Osaka Mayor's Remarks on "comfort Women" Enrage Group in Philippines




By Ronron Calunsod 

Manila, May 15 Kyodo -- Two groups of "comfort women" in the Philippines expressed rage Wednesday at the statement of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto about sexual servitude being necessary for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The Lila Pilipina (League for Filipino Grandmothers) and Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), who have a combined membership of 142 surviving victims of sexual slavery during wartime in the Philippines, said Hashimoto should apologize for justifying the wrongdoings of the Japanese military.

Hashimoto said Monday that sexual servitude by women in Asia was necessary for Japanese soldiers during wartime to maintain discipline in the military.

"I am afraid with Hashimoto's statement. I don't think the Japanese people should trust him if he has that opinion.

How can the Japanese people occupy a friendly space in the international community and promote brotherhood with that opinion?" Richilda Extremadura, president of Lila Pilipina, told Kyodo News.

"His statement is a manifestation of his view that any method can and should be used in times of war. That saddens and enrages us. I can't believe that a man in his position can still think that way at this time. The women are already old, why can't he think about them?" she said.

Isabelita Vinuya, 81, a victim of Japanese abuses in Pampanga Province who is now president of Malaya Lolas, said Hashimoto's statement "degraded us further because it means it is the job and obligation of women to allow themselves to be raped by the Japanese soldiers." "Does he mean the women are needed for their wrongdoings? That is not right. That is not acceptable. What are women to him? The Philippines, when it took part in the war, did not include women in any pervert acts, because that is not right," Vinuya told Kyodo News in a separate interview.


Extremadura and Vinuya said they are both saddened by Hashimoto's statement because it runs counter to what they are demanding from the Japanese government.

"Instead of justifying what his government did during World War II, he should be realizing at this stage that what they did was wrong. The first thing they should have done is to accept that fact because many comfort women are already dying, and many have died, without getting justice. They should be responsible and held accountable for that crime," Extremadura said.

She said that instead of justifying the "military culture of needing women," Hashimoto, being in government, could just have used his position and power to discuss his government's accountability and come up with a state policy on the issue.

"It's not very diplomatic for him to say that. He is the mayor of Osaka. What if he goes to a higher position in government? Will he still contend that the military should be provided with women? Our position is that nobody has the right to use and violate women in any circumstances," Extremadura said. "We really want justice for the grandmothers because we also want to put an end to the military culture of needing women." The two women said the Philippine government should also seek a formal apology from Hashimoto and condemn his statement.


"If this is a responsible government, it should represent the cause of its own citizens," Extremadura said even as she lamented how the Philippine government has not been supporting their battle.

"Hearing Hashimoto's statement makes me sadder because we have been fighting our cause without any support from the Philippine government.


But still, I am appealing on our government to denounce Hashimoto's statement," Vinuya said as she expressed envy of the comfort women in South Korea, who, she said, are enjoying full support from their government.


"How can abuses against Filipino women all over the world stop if the Philippine government cannot even fight for us who have long been in this struggle?" she asked.


Foreign affairs department spokesman Raul Hernandez said, "The Philippines reiterates the importance of adhering to the language and tone of the Kono Statement of 1993 and of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's 2002 letter to Filipino comfort women." In his letter, Koizumi extended his "most sincere apologies and remorse" to the "comfort women," and wrote, "We must not evade the weight of the past, nor should we evade our responsibilities for the future." "The Philippine government has always urged Japanese authorities to be more circumspect in their public statements relating to this issue, as they strike at the core of the feelings and sensitivities of those who experienced great suffering during World War II," Hernandez said.



The two organizations have been asking the Philippine government to back their demand from the Japanese government for formal apologies and legal compensation.


But they claim their pleas always fall on deaf ears, the last pair that of President Benigno Aquino, who, up to this time, still has to present the result of an order he gave to Philippine ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez in 2010 about studying "a compromise" on the demands of the war victims "that is acceptable to all parties." The organizations have refused to accept the statements of apologies made by Japanese officials over the years because, for them, they do not come with an admission of the crime that was committed.

Compensation made through the Asia Women's Fund, a Japanese government-initiated private relief foundation, was also rejected by some comfort women, saying it did not directly come from the government.

"When we organized in 1997, we were 90.

Now, there are only 39 of us because the rest have already died. Most of us now are already weak and ill. When can we get justice? When we all have already died?" Vinuya asked.


Friday, May 17, 2013

My Response to Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, Japan


"In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives ... if you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary.  Anyone can understand that."

—Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka and co-founder of the right wing Japan Restoration Party



Toru Hashimoto’s comments on May 13, 2013 are an affront to humanity.  Acts of sexual violence against any man or woman or child at any time and under any circumstance are inexcusable.  No justification can be made for these heinous acts against 200,000 women and girls in China, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.

I have been researching the lives of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII since 1997.  In 2001, I spent eight months touring the abduction sites and “comfort stations” of fifteen survivors.  Their testimonies reveal the grotesque details of Japanese soldiers systematically kidnapping women and girls, holding them against their will, and repeatedly raping, humiliating and berating them.

The “Comfort Stations” survivors have taken me to are not bordellos.  The women were kept in churches, classrooms, government buildings, fish bins, and shacks. They were systematically raped—sometimes more than a dozen times a day.  They were not allowed to bathe or given a moment to rest and clean themselves.  They were not all women.  There were girls without their menses.  Some were only eight, some old women.  They were treated like animals.

In 1943, when seventeen year-old Pilar Frias resisted her attackers in Bikol in the Philippines, one of the Japanese soldiers burned her face with a cigarette.  With the end of a bayonet, another solider slashed her nose. Five soldiers raped Pilar Frias then tied her at the waist to three other women and dragged the women behind them as the soldiers patrolled the countryside. The four girls moved as one unit.  When one lay down to sleep, four lay down to sleep.  If one fell, the others followed. When one was raped, all four were raped. Repeatedly. 

It is long past time that the Japanese government takes full responsibility, makes a clear and sincere apology and acknowledges these war crimes against humanity. 




Hear Congressman Ed Royce's response to Mayor Hashimoto:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3zI2KfpO0s&feature=youtu.be

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: mevelinag@yahoo.com



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. mevelinag@yahoo.com.  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."  http://www.arirang.co.kr/News/News_View.asp?nseq=129241&code=Ne3&category=4

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.



Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Piedad Nobleza, Super Lola



Piedad Nicasio Nobleza
Born August 2, 1920 Madalag, Aklan, Panay Island
Abducted by the Japanese Imperial Army, January 16th, 1942

If I were to Google images of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women,” your face would pop up all over international cyberspace. You’d wear a backward baseball cap and a t-shirt and in your small hands you’d hold a big placard that would cover three quarters of your frame. The words “Justice for All Comfort Women” would scrawl across your body. And chances are you would be standing before the Japanese embassy in Metro Manila. Or maybe you would be marching before Malacañang Palace. Or standing on the curb down EDSA Boulevard, protesting the President’s State of the Union Address. You might even be standing before the courts in Japan, giving your testimony.

But today, we are standing face to face, in the cathedral in Madalag, Aklan – one plane and one long bus ride away from your home in Navotas, Metro Manila. Here we are, on the island of Panay, in a town so small hardly anyone gets international news on television or newspaper and certainly not by internet. We are in the countryside and while you and I have been friends for years now, you have told everyone here that I am your grandchild from the United States. You have told them that I am a writer in search of our family history. Your townmates think I have come to see where our people are from. To see the animals indigenous to our homeland. To pull on the leaves of these trees and know my history is rooted here with you. “She is writing our family story,” you told your former neighbors.

Except for two of your nieces who have escorted us into the church we are alone and you are whispering to me, using your eyes and your hands to indicate what happened here so long ago.

I am begging you to tell your story on camera. But you shake your head, no. I say, “But we have traveled so far.”

“I told you already,” you say.

*

I told her already. My name is Piedad Nobleza and I was born in Madalag, Aklan on August 2, 1920. I was married by the time the war broke out. My husband was a soldier and we had a son and a baby girl. When he left, I took the children from our house in the lowlands and moved them to a safer place. My aunt’s house was hidden high in the mountains. No people passed that way. The country was quiet and we lived in peace. Until one day, I went down the mountain to check on our house. Because we had been living isolated from any other people I did not know the Japanese had landed. When I got to my house, the guava tree branches covered the roof and tangled itself among the leaves of other trees. I spent the morning clearing the brush and cleaning up the house. I got lost in the pulling out of weeds. After awhile I stood to stretch my back. That’s when I saw them. Two Japanese soldiers.

“Don’t runaway!” they yelled in English.

I froze. Held my breath. I could not stop thinking about my children. If I run and they shoot me, what will come of them? The taller soldier was kind. He wanted to hold me. The smaller one, cruel. He kicked me, pushed me. They hurt me.

I could not walk. I was too scared.

They brought me here, to this church 50 kilometers from her house. In the church were women from different parts of the mountain, women I had never seen before.

That first night the soldiers placed two pews together. Two of them argued who would go first. The first soldier was fair, not too tall, and not too fat.

After that, seven Japanese soldiers raped me. They came every half hour. And after that, every night for two weeks, two or four soldiers raped me every night. But I don’t know even one of them. Not even one of them.

Then one morning, I woke and all was quiet. The church door was wide open. And because I slept next to the door, I was the first to step out to discover the Japanese soldiers had fled in the middle of the night.

So I went back to the house where my aunt shot me a look and did not said anything at all. When I arrived at our house, I sat in the corner, crying and crying.

*

Lola Piedad Nobleza, superhero. Your friends and family in Madalag think you are a seamstress. But to the rest of the world, you are an activista. A Lola. In Manila, you jet around the city with your best friends, Lolas Dolor Molina and Josefa Villamor and you fight for justice. You stand in the center of a circle and you sing songs. You march on the streets. You give your testimony to reporters and students alike. You are practically the poster lola for all “comfort women.”

But we are here, in this space. You, me, and God. And you whisper to me – we slept there, by the door. We cooked over there. That altar is new. These pews, they took us here.

“Do your grandchildren know?”

“I haven’t told them, but they know. People talk.”

“Will you tell them?”

“No.”

“But you tell me?”

“You have a mission.”

“And you tell the whole wide world?”

“Because it is LILA’s mission. Young girls need to know what happened.”

“So tell me now, Lola. Now that we are here, tell your story.”

And here is where you show me just how strong you are. Your lips go taut. Your face, dark. You look me in the eye.

Nothing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

University of Miami's Amnesty International DIE IN 5/12/07




The University of Miami's annual DIE IN, sponsored by UM's Amnesty International gathers all groups who support those who have suffered violations of human rights. Among the groups this day, were the women and men of Friends of Lolas, a group standing in solidarity with the 200,000 surviving "Comfort Women" of WWII, especially the grandmothers of Liga Ng Mga Lolang Piliipina -- M. Evelina Galang's beautiful Lolas of the Philippines. Here Galang sets up the women's stories, as students stand by to read testimonies from survivors.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Tapestry of Lola Remedios Felias



August 2002
Homecoming
Brookfield, Wisconsin


The sun streams in through the wall-sized window, casting afternoon light on our family room. Outside the trees sway vibrant and green, shade a small figure of Mama Mary. She welcomes me too with arms stretched and hands waiting. Inside, noise percolates from every room of the house. I am home. From my suitcase I pull a salmon colored tapestry. When you first glance at it, the greens, blues and reds flash a beautiful montage of color. The folds unwind and reveal the fine embroidery.

I’m telling my mother and sister-in-law that when Lola Remedios learned I was coming, she began working on this piece as gift to me. It took her all six months to get this far in the tapestry. Every piece – every letter and image has been cut from other fabrics and painstakingly hand-sewn into the cloth. Except for the missing D where she has sewn, “(D)ecember 20, 1942, Dito Ako Nahuli Sa Lugar ng Baryo Esperanza,” it’s all there – the Dagitan River, green mountains and lush trees, the nipa hut where she grew up. Every piece has been meticulously etched onto the salmon slate.

On the top border she declares in large green letters:

My Name is Remedios Felias From the Province of Burauen Leyte Barrio Esperanza And I Was Born On Jan 29, 1928.

The rest of the text, scattered across the cloth is in Tagalog, borders scenes of Lola as a teenager running through the fields and leaping over barbed-wire fences. She catches her leg on the spur of a fence and on the fabric there is a trail of red chain-stitching. Close behind are soldiers running with their bayonets pointed up to the sky, their legs straddled in a sprint, their white scarves flapping in the wind. One soldier has skewered a baby on his sword. She has sewn two black x’s in its tiny face. These are the eyes. Red thread flies from its round form. It is all there, embroidered and pieced together in a non-linear montage. She has made tiny Japanese soldiers like paper doll cutouts. She has sewn herself into the lining and stitched her hair wild and black, blood everywhere. It is all there, the capture, the torture, the raping. It is all there, the planes and the white and red sun of that flag, the garrison and the bars, and her face behind them:

Dito Ako Ikingulong.
Here is where I was kept.

She has set her story free on this canvas. She has given it to me so I can bring it with me everywhere I go, so she can speak for herself long after she passes away from cancer of the stomach. It is the testimony she has given to the Japanese courts, to the media, and now, to me, in this one foot by three feet piece of cloth.

I hold the tapestry up and my sister-in-law and mother are just beginning to understand the images when my just turned four year old niece walks into the room, says, “What’s that?” I fold the piece in two. I tuck it under my arms. Say, “Just a blanket.” I lean over and pick up her sippy-cup and coax her into the kitchen. “Want some more milk?” I think the moment is over. But on the ride back to their home, my niece considers what she saw, a blur of colors on an old piece of cloth, and from her car seat, she calls out, “Mommy, if I am pretty enough, will the soldiers leave you and Daddy alone?”



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TO THE FRIENDS OF MELISSA ROXAS:


Thank you for your email. I would be honored if you posted my note on her page.

Always, in solidarity and support,

M. Evelina Galang
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