Thursday, July 12, 2007
AN OPEN LETTER TO MIKE HONDA
July 10, 2007
Dear Congressman Mike Honda,
I thought you’d like an update on my research. I’m back in Quezon City, Philippines continuing to document the stories of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of World War II.
Back in 1999, when I first met the women of LILA Pilipina, there were about forty survivors in an active campaign to regain their dignity from the crimes committed against them by the Japanese Imperial Army during WW2.
Organizers of LILA Pilipina – some of whom you have met – would gather with women in Quezon City, Novotas and Antipolo and together they would strategize and plan their campaign. I remember first walking into the houses of surviving lolas – so many of them sitting in chairs around the sala, waiting for the meeting to begin. As they waited they chatted with one another, or they sang songs to one another or they’d put on a cassette tape and dance with each other as they waited for everyone to arrive. Sometimes there were twenty to thirty lolas at those meetings and so loud were they, that if you did not know any better, you might think you were walking in on a fiesta of old women.
But soon, the meetings would begin and the lolas would grow serious, and these same women would soon be on the streets, rallying and protesting in front of the Japanese embassy or lined up along the roads waving banners and flags at the current visiting Japanese Prime Minister. These same women would fly to Japan to share their testimonies with many Japanese citizens eager to hear their stories.
Eight years later, and the women are half the number they were before. Most of them are in their mid to late eighties and very fragile. In this first week back, I have met with about twenty surviving “Comfort Women.” I have traveled with Rechilda Extremadura, LILA Pilipina’s director back to Quezon City, to Navotas and to Antipolo where Ms. Extremadura has been sharing your work and success with House Resolution 121 with them. The lolas know you very well. I have played the news clips and other short documentaries that 121 Coalition has produced on my laptop. We have translated the resolution for the women and they are eager for the bill to come to the House floor for a full vote.
It saddens me to know so many of these fighting lolas have passed on without seeing the great effects of their fight, that some may still die without hearing a formal apology from Japan. In speaking with them, some have shared their responses to Shinzo Abe’s current remarks. They want to know why he thinks telling the President of the United States he feels sorry for the women is the same thing as speaking directly to them and telling them he is sorry his government condoned the systematic rape and enslavement of their lives? Shouldn’t he be directing his conversation to them?
Speaking their stories has allowed them to unburden their hearts, fighting for what’s right has relieved them of the shame they have felt for so many years, but their hearts are still broken over the brutal abuse they have suffered then as military sex slaves, and now as human beings asking to be recognized and treated with respect and dignity. So many I speak with are concerned that to ignore this opportunity to address the past is to condone the behavior and to make room for it to happen again.
The lolas of LILA Pilipina are well aware of the many supporters and friends they have gained in the United States through the life of House Resolution 121. They understand that many of our “Kongristas” have co-sponsored the bill and their hearts are full knowing that no matter what happens their stories will remain alive in the work you and so many others are doing.
I write to applaud your campaign and the work of your colleagues. It is my hope that House Resolution 121 passes without hesitation for the need to reconcile, heal and forgive, the need to learn from the mistakes of war and to transcend the past can only be attained when we are willing to review our history and take responsibility for our actions.
M. Evelina Galang
Assistant Professor, English
University of Miami