above: 121 Coalition leader Annabel Park, surviving "Comfort Woman" Lee Yong-Soo and myself, M. Evelina Galang after the historic House of Representative vote to pass House Res. 121.
Inside the carpet was royal blue. The high domed-ceilings bore historic images the colors of antique America. We looked down into the room and saw rows of empty seats, places where the House of Representatives sat. A handful of them were scattered among the floor, sitting under bright pockets of light, settled into dark wood desks and thick carved chairs. From the gallery, I could see the back of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, senior ranking member on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, my Coral Gables representative.
We joined fifty more coalition members on the right balcony facing the Speaker of the House. Across from us were another fifty Asian Americans. A series of tourists shuffled in and out of rows, sometimes whispering, sometimes pushing loudly on doors and backs of chairs.
Across from me, a football field away, with the House of Representatives below us Annabel Park, 121 National Coalition leader, crawled from seat to seat, strategizing with other coalition members. Lee Yong-Soo, the only surviving “Comfort Woman” present was sitting in the second row directly across from me. A pink shawl wrapped around her torso as if to mark her as our special angel. It seemed to me, there was light all around her. She looked so much smaller than the rest. A young Korean woman rested her head on the old woman’s shoulder, and whispered translations in her ear.
Below us the Representatives began to rise and speak.
The tourists came and went.
My eyes went back and forth – from the shock of Chairman Tom Lantos’ white hair, to the movement of Congressman Mike Honda running back and forth across the floor, to the steady form of Representative Ros-Lehtinen as she delivered her address. And in between the movement on the House Floor, I kept my eye on Lee Yong-Soo.
I watched the way her body shifted and the way the pink shawl fell and dipped about her body. Were the words moving her? Was she uncomfortable? Could she hear? I wondered what it was like to have these American words turned inside out and shaped into Korean and hissed into your ear? Now and then she dabbed her eye with a white handkerchief.
What would it be like to fill these empty seats up with 200,000 spirits – young girls, old women, some of them alive and breathing like Lee Yong-Soo and some of them shapeless forms of white light, now spinning balls of energy, now ghosts. What would it be like to fly the remaining lolas of LILA Pilipina to Washington DC – maybe twenty of them -- and seat them closest to the railings parallel to the Speaker of the House? They would know from the way the Congresspersons delivered their words what was the truth, if they were supporting them or fighting them.
As I listened to the speakers rise, I imagined their words loose and dancing across the room, transforming into each of the 200,000 women’s mother tongue – Tagalog, Kapampangan, Ilocano. Chinese, Korean, Japanese. Dutch, Malaysian, English.
How long they’ve waited to hear these words – in any language, at any time. How long. How long they've waited for Japan to wake up, to hear them, to apologize. Will it happen now?
Later that afternoon, I stood next to Lee Yong-Soo amid the other 121 Coalition members. Under the hot Washington sun, we held a press conference, with our spokesperson, Daniel Lee before us and the others surrounding us. I looked into her eyes and squeezed her hand. I leaned into her and I whispered as if praying, “Thank you.” I did not know her Korean words, nor did she speak my English or my mixed up version of Tagalog. Still, she pressed her face against mine. She kissed my cheek.