17 May 2007
Asian Pacific American leaders from Washington, D.C., Miami, New York, and Los Angeles are converging in San Francisco to support Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-San Jose) House Resolution 121.
Cultural events starting May 15 aim to increase awareness of the resolution, which calls upon the Japanese government to accept responsibility for World War II “rape camps” that enslaved more than 200,000 girls and women.
The 121 Coalition is meeting with Bay Area leaders of the Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition and the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia to strategize about how to organize the Asian Pacific American community here in support of Honda’s resolution.
The May 15 event was held at the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco. A screening of the coalition’s latest short film was followed by readings of sworn testimonies from surviving Filipina “comfort women.”
Scheduled speakers included Bay Area community leaders Barbara Reyes Bermeo, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Claudine del Rosario, Korina Jocson, Jocyl Sacramento, and Michelle Ferrer.
The 121 Coalition is focusing on congressional districts represented by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), chairman of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, without whom the resolution cannot come to a vote.
Coalition leader Annabel Park of Silver Spring, Md. believes the movement has the potential to bring the APA community together in a manner not previously seen.
“This resolution presents an opportunity to unite behind a positive message that is about healing and reconciliation, and the affirmation of women’s rights,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity to create a lasting network of Asian Pacific American activists.”
Park, who is Korean American, collaborated with Chinese American filmmaker Eric Byler (“Charlotte Sometimes,” “Americanese”) and Filipina American author M. Evelina Galang (Her Wild American Self, One Tribe) on a series of YouTube mini-documentaries featuring testimonies by former “comfort women.” All three were present for a screening of one of their films and readings of testimonies by Bay Area community leaders and artists.
Galang, who traveled from Miami for this week’s hastily scheduled events, said the “comfort women” issue is not widely known in the Filipino community.
“For 50 years the women were silent, and now they have come forward with great strength and dignity,” she said. “It is important that the community hear their stories and that these stories become a part of our history.”
Galang hopes that knowing the women’s stories will motivate and mobilize the community to sway its congressional representatives.
Byler worked with Park doing ethnic outreach for Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) during last year’s election.
“Last fall we were going to our parents and grandparents saying, ‘Ending the war in Iraq is important. Fighting prejudice is important,’ ” Byler said. “Afterwards, we asked them, ‘What’s important to you?’ I think many of them are still haunted by World War II issues because there are remaining questions as to which version of history will be passed on.”