The Dalaga Project

In June of 1998, I traveled with five of my Filipina American students to research a film script, DALAGA. Dalaga is that moment in between girl and woman and the story was about a dalaga and her lola, her grandmother. What the dalaga finds out in the course of the story is that her beautiful and wise and compassionate lola is a surviving Comfort Woman of WWII. My students and I went to meet the Lolas of LILA Pilipina because I wanted the characters' perspectives to be honest. I wanted to do my homework before writing the story. When Ana Fe, Tara, Nehle, Mia and Lizzie and I got there, we expected to see sad women, beaten women, tortured women. But what we found were strong and funny and joyous women. Women who despite the abuse to their bodies and spirits had survived. We found women full of energy to fight for their much deserved justice. Between action alerts and marches, they taught us how to tango and we taught them how to raise the roof. We painted murals of our lives -- the dalgas and the lolas drawing their experiences on canvas. We taught each other English and Tagalog and some of us inadvertently got lessons in Waray or Visayan or Ilocano.We got to know each other. We fell in love with them and they adopted us and called us their apo, though at first they did not think we were really Pinay at all. So when they each shared their stories with us, their experiences of abduction and their day to day lives as military sex slaves, our hearts broke. When we role played and the lolas played the role of Japanese soldiers and the dalagas and I were the comfort girls, we felt a mix of anger, fear and violation and knew it was only the surface of their lived experience. We would ask them how they did it. How did they survive? Pa ano, Lola? How, Lola? And do you what they told us, over and over again-- Sa awa ng Dyos. Through the mercy of God. This is an image from our shared journal where the dalagas and I wrote down the stories as we began to live them.