Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Friends of "Comfort Women" from Australia video
I received a request to share this amazing youtube video from Friends of "Comfort Women" in Australia. I'm grateful for the opportunity to do so. It warms my heart to see that there are so many activists working for justice, working not to argue or force an issue, but who are patiently educating those around them, especially our governments.
No matter how long it takes, Lolas. No matter how difficult, there are many who support your truth and who are working to make sure it never happens again.
Best wishes from Miami,
M. Evelina Galang
Friends of Lolas
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Here is an excerpt of Lola's story. I've been working on it all week. Today is the anniversary of her birth, 83 years ago. And though she never got her apology, I know she wants one still. Not so much for herself, but for the future of all girls and women and children who live in a constant state of war. She wants that apology to heal the tired souls of victims and soldiers alike.
Happy Birthday, Lola Iyak-Iyak! Mahal na Mahal kita!
From an essay in progress, for your birthday and all days:
Out on the balcony she talks fast and when all I do is listen, she tugs on my arm and points at my camera. The Dalaga Project have only been in Manila a week and we are just getting to know the women. Since some of the girls are fluent in Tagalog, some only passive in their understanding and others English only speakers, we thought it would best not to conduct formal interviews, but to find activities like dancing and painting and drama to help us learn about their lives and their stories. Formal interviews are so cold and intrusive. We have made a choice not to conduct them at all, but here we stand in the beautiful afternoon light of Lola Cristeta’s cement balcony, surrounded by palm trees and ferns, and other lush greenery, on the verge of just that. She insists I turn on my camera.
“She wants to tell you her story,” Maribel tells us. “She wants you to tape her now.”
“Now?” I look at Lola Cristeta, at the very center of her graying eye and there it is, the first sign of a tear. She smiles at me then. I look over my shoulder to Eliza, who is just behind me. She says nothing. Then Lola Cristeta coaches me, “Sige, e on mo na.”
I obey. I flip the screen open and nudge the switch. The light flashes green and the mini monitor lights up blue and then softly, her face emerges in the tiny screen. I hit the record button red. I pull back and she begins in a calm way.
Ako si Cristeta Alcober.
She gives her testimony slowly and in Tagalog, calling out her birth date – July 26, 1926 – and her hometown, Barrio Cogon, San Jose, Tacloban City, Leyte. She tells us about her mother, the laundry woman, and her father, a womanizer with many mistresses from Leyte to Manila. She names her sister, her two brothers and she tells us she was the ate.
The camera zooms in tight on her face because the sunlight is so golden, revealing all the lines on her beautiful brown skin, sometimes drifting to her silver white hair tucked behind a thick earlobe. The voice is soft and rough like a dirt road scattered with fine pebbles. Her words float out of her slowly. I hold the camera with my hand and I watch her, not the viewfinder. I watch the light in her eye, how it dances as she speaks. How relief washes over her entire body. She smiles as she talks. Her arms wrap around herself – the right arm reaching up across her chest to the left shoulder and the other cinched around her waist. Now and then the hand on her shoulder goes up to gesture at the camera.
One day, when she was sixteen years old, she and her 14 year old brother Marianito, were sent to the market in town on an errand and when they returned to the barrio around three in the afternoon, the small village was empty. No one walked the pathways, no one stood in the center of the town. Someone told them that the Japanese soldiers had come while they were gone and that everyone who had not gone into hiding was taken to the Japanese garrison set up in San Jose, Leyte.
As Lola Cristeta speaks to us, her breath goes short. Her words falter and then suddenly she’s speaking quickly, no longer in Tagalog, the language we speak, but Visayan. Maribel does her best to interpret Lola’s dialect, but only because she knows Lola’s testimony.
We step closer to her, the camera shooting her mouth, her eye, the inside of her ear. We are with her. We become her. Eliza and I exchange glances and we see that we too have tears streaming down our faces.
And this is where we lose her. The deeper she goes into her experience, the farther away she seems, lost somewhere on the island of Leyte, in the center of its green wilderness. She hiccups, she tears. The words tilt left and right. Grow harder to decipher. She paws at her collarbone and winces. Slips back and forth between Tagalog and Visayan and even as we cannot understand her, we find ourselves slipping into the past, feeling the weight of the experience. We enter the small house in Cogon only to find the Japanese soldiers waiting for us, swooping down on us, dragging us down the road. It is in her eyes. It is in the lapses of her breath. Eliza and I, like the brother and sister are torn apart, one made to turn left and the other forced right and the heart raw like meat ripped in two. The tears wash Lola Cristeta’s face and the breathing grows shallow, but she does not stop talking. We are at the airstrip by the water. She keeps talking. We are in a pit of sand dug for fish. We are thirty girls thrown together, like catches of the day, imprisoned by barbed wire walls and bamboo locked doors. She talks over her own crying now. Faster and louder and now she is going into Waray, a native dialect, a language so deep and so intense that it must be coming from her very core.
On this day, she tells me everything, mixing all her words together like a giant batch of alphabet soup, the Waray and Tagalog and Visayan, the occasional English word tossed in for flavor, all holding their shape, translating her two years in that fish bin, drowning with thirty other girls. She tells me all I need to know, though I understand nothing but the tears rolling down my own face.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Something happens to you when you are born outside of your parents' mother country. You are born with a longing to go home to a place you've never been. You go about your business, being all American and knowing nothing else, ignoring all that talk about how it was when they grew up "back home" how things were, who your ancestors were, but inside you, they've planted that seed, and it's growing. You pretend you don't want to know like a good teenager, but you want to know. You want to be a part of it. And if you somehow find your way to writing stories and poems and making films and art, that hunger grows. And you want to go back home. You want to see it for yourself. And it is not enough to visit. You start to write about it. Draw it. Make music about it. And then that is not enough to just visit your family, your lolo, lola, titas and titos all your pinsan, you want to know more. You go historical. You find the stories of the earth. You sit with all the kapitbahay. You speak your bad Tagalog. And stories come out of you, poetry, things you never imagined you housed inside of you and there you are -- an American, digging up a past only your soul comprehends. Not your MTV self. Not your Boomerang kid self. Certainly not your wild American Self. If you're lucky that spark hits you and somehow the art you make does something more than sit pretty on the page. It moves you to act.
I sit in solidarity with you Melissa Roxas. Speak up, speak your truth without fear. For you represent us all. All of us who long to go home, to find our true Selves and in doing so discover that in fact, despite the fact we were not born on that island or if we were, we have not lived on that island for a lifetime, we have a devotion to it, a commitment to it. Make it clear, we have a right to come home, to serve our people with our words and to do it without savage acts of torture, or corruption or imprisonment.
With much love, sincere respect and absolute solidarity,
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Comfort Women Dying for Justice: Japan Still No Apology
Contact: Valerie Francisco, Chair – Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, 925-726-5768 , firstname.lastname@example.org
The 44th Session of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has convened at the United Nations in New York and FiRE demands that Japan address the issue of wartime comfort women.
Progressive Filipino women’s organization, FiRE-NYC (Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment), demands justice for the surviving comfort women as Japan’s government presents its 6th periodic report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the 44th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women at the United Nations this week. During WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army abducted and repeatedly raped a reported 100,000-250,000 young girls and women in Japanese occupied colonies and territories including China, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Since Maria Rosa Luna Henson, the first Filipina comfort woman to publicly came forward in 1992, more of the remaining comfort women in the Philippines broke their 50 years of silence since WWII. With the handfuls of grandmothers coming forward with their stories, LILA-PILIPINA was formally launched and founded by comfort women survivors and members of the Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women in 1994, and remains one of the largest Philippines-based organizations working toward this cause. To this day, hundreds of surviving comfort women in the Philippines demand the apology and acknowledgement for the atrocities they experienced at the hands of the Japanese government, and seek adequate compensation for themselves and their families to live the little time they have left with dignity.
FiRE-NYC condemns the Japanese government for its careless disregard toward the surviving comfort women, their war crimes, and the international community. The United States, Netherlands, Canada and the European Union have already passed resolutions insisting that the Japanese government address the demands of the surviving comfort women. Cities within Japan have also passed resolutions locally urging their national government to acknowledge the comfort women issue. Yet, all these resolutions remain overlooked, and the Japanese government continues to blatantly deny the systematic rape of comfort women all over Asia, executed by its Imperial Army during the Second World War.
Because about a third of the 174 surviving Filipina comfort women have already died, the urgency in the Filipino community has increased. After the passing of HR 121, Representatives Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Party demanded that the Government of Japan “FORMALLY AKNOWLEDGE, APOLOGIZE AND ACCEPT ITS RESPONSIBILITY OVER THE SEXUAL SLAVERY” and “PROVIDE COMPENSATION TO THE VICTIMS.” House Bill 1136, “An Act Providing for the Inclusion in the History Books of Elementary, Secondary and Collegiate Curricula the Lives and Heroism of Filipino Comfort Women during the Japanese Occupation and Appropriating Funds Therefore,” has also been filed through the GABRIELA women’s party list, in the hopes that the remaining grandmothers can inch closer toward dignity and justice.
FiRE-NYC, as an overseas chapter of GABRIELA National Alliance of Women, remains in solidarity with the surviving comfort women as they struggle for the justice and acknowledgement they deserve. The challenges faced by the remaining comfort women is part of the ongoing fight for justice and women’s rights resurfacing in current matters of military sexual violence, a battle rooted in the systematic abuse and exploitation of women at the hands of the military worldwide. We entreat the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to urge the Japanese government to immediately address their war crimes against women by responding to the demands of all surviving comfort women.
Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) invites you to stand in solidarity with GABRIELA and Lila Pilipina for a public action which seeks justice for the comfort women, and demands that the Government of the Philippines must not overlook the wartime atrocities suffered by the surviving Comfort Women. As Filipinas who defend the rights and welfare of women all over the world, we must understand that the fight for justice coincides with the Japanese government taking accountability for its actions. Join FiRE at the United Nations where representative of Japan’s government will be reporting during the CEDAW session, and demand the issues of Japan’s wartime comfort women be addressed. Anyone who wants to defend the victims of military sexual violence and wars of aggression must pressure Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime to evict all US troops out of the Philippines, and refuse the creation of another generation of comfort women!
New York – FiRE (Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment)
RALLY TO SUPPORT THE SURVIVING COMFORT WOMEN OF WWII
Thursday, July 23 — 430pm
1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
[47th between 2nd & 3rd Ave.]
Directions: 4/5/6/7/S trains to Grand Central Station or E/F trains to 51st St.
Enter Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 2nd Ave between E 46th & E 47th, walk to 1st Ave.
Look for the bright orange FiRE flags!
Contact: Hanalei Ramos – 201.790.0995
NO TO WARS OF AGGRESSION!
NO TO ANOTHER GENERATION OF COMFORT WOMEN!
US TROOPS OUT OF THE PHILIPPINES!
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
I've been quiet because I've been writing, working on the stories of 15 surviving Filipina "Comfort Women," stories of my lolas. So there hasn't been much on this blog. Sorry. I'm working on it.
But here's some great news, the V-DAY performance of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES at the Philippine Center, Kalayaan Hall on 556 5th AVE, NY, NY will be sending part of their profits to the Lolas -- also the Women of Democratic Republic of Congo, and the NaFAA Legal Defense Fund.
Come check us out!