On March 8, in observance of International Women’s Day, a press conference was called by Phyllis Kim of the Korean American Form of California to honor the Korean comfort women and lend support affirming the existence of the statue honoring them at a park in Glendale.
Among the dozen or so speakers were David Monkawa of the California Nurses Association, Kathy Masaoka of NCRR, and myself, a board member of the San Fernando Valley JACL. Our speeches follow.
David Monkawa: “The California Nurses Association / NNU-AFL-CIO is the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S. with 185,000 members in approximately 24 states. California is where the majority of our members reside. We have had our L.A. offices in Glendale for about 15 years across the street from the Galleria. We have approximately 500-plus members in Glendale, many of whom are employed at Glendale Memorial Hospital, Verdugo Hills Hospital and other local hospitals where we represent union RNs. We are also one of two of the largest unions in Glendale and are composed of 90% women nurses.
“We support the statue of the so-called ‘comfort women’ (Peace Monument) erected in Central Park near Glendale City Hall and oppose the lawsuit filed against the city of Glendale by right-wing political groups from Japan and their local allies.
“There is irrefutable evidence of these atrocities that ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other Asian women and girls during World War II who were forced into sexual slavery to serve the soldiers of the military expansionist Japanese army at the time. We support H.R. 121, passed unanimously by Congress, calling on the government of Japan to issue a formal apology.
“Unfortunately, the current majority of the Japanese government has refused and instead is charting a course to rewrite war atrocities out of Japanese educational history books, ressurrecting the old militaristic ‘rising sun’ flag for its ‘self-defense’ forces and passing unpopular and repressive ‘state secrecy’ laws as a part of their increased militarization. A direction that the current Obama administration is ‘disappointed’ with.
“The lawsuit against Glendale to remove the so-called “Comfort Woman” Peace statue from Central Park is part and parcel of their political agenda and Glendale nor its residents should be subjected to such tactics so that special interests can have their way.
“Moreover, we condemn the politicians who falsely claimed to the international media on Feb. 28, 2014, that ‘Koreans in Glendale are bullying Japanese schoolchildren in Glendale’ due to the erection of the ‘comfort women’ peace statue. The Glendale Police Department stated this was a ‘100% fabrication.’ Educators in Glendale and I as a witness can attest these are absolutely false. The Japanese government went so far as to cancel previously enjoyed student exchange programs based on this falsehood. This is a shameful and blatant attempt to generate hate, which lays bare their real agenda and is not the majority opinion of many Japanese working people who aspire for peace and harmonious relationships with all people inside and outside of Japan.
“The courage and determination of the 55 remaining ‘comfort women’ should be honored as well as all comfort women remembered on International Women’s Day in Glendale.”
Kathy Masaoka: “On this International Women’s Day, the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress would like to affirm its support for the comfort women and acknowledge their bravery in telling their story and demanding reparations from Japan. This comfort woman statue is a reminder to all of us that the abuse and trafficking of women into forced prostitution or domestic slavery continues today, even in this country.
“Japan has said that they settled all claims when they paid reparations as part of the peace treaties after the war, but these monies did not go to the comfort women. The United States also stated that they settled all claims with Japanese Americans who lost their homes, their businesses and their freedoms when they were incarcerated during World War II. But the Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 only paid individuals 10 cents on the dollar for loss of property, but only if they had kept their receipts. It took a grassroots, decade-long campaign to win an apology and redress for this injustice.
“Some say that Japan has paid reparations through the Asian Women’s Fund, but only 285 women from South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines have gotten money. Most consider it charity since the funds come mainly from private sources, and not a sincere acknowledgement of responsibility by the Japanese government.
“And although various prime ministers have expressed some apology, it has not been directly to the comfort women, nor has it been strong enough to prevent other officials from denying the existence of the comfort women – some have even justified it. Obviously, much clearer action by the government and greater education is needed to make sure that this history is accurately taught.
“When the U.S. government conducted hearings across the country, hundreds of Japanese Americans were able to speak out for the first time about their losses from the incarceration, including their land, their homes and their freedom. It helped our community to begin to heal. We believe that a similar form of hearings in Japan would allow the comfort women and others to speak about what happened to them during World War II and educate many through this process.
“On this day of honoring women, we encourage Japan to demonstrate that it is a strong country that is not afraid to look at its past honestly and that can express sincere apologies for its abuse of women by paying individual reparations to the surviving comfort women.”
Phil Shigekuni: “Our chapter has unanimously voted to support the Glendale comfort women statue.
“Many in our chapter are American citizens, and yet were incarcerated in World War II concentration camps only because we shared a common ancestry with the enemy, Japan. Twenty-five years ago, after a ten-year struggle by our community, President Reagan signed a redress bill, awarding each of those imprisoned $20,000 along with an apology on behalf of the president and Congress.
“Speaking personally, this act of vindication restored my faith in our country. I felt a sense of being reborn as an American, and I can vouch for the value of a nation’s sincere apology accompanied by a monetary demonstration of its sincerity.
“The comfort women have yet to receive an unequivocal apology and compensation from the Japanese government.
“Next month, our Japanese American community will stage its annual Pilgrimage to Manzanar, located close to Lone Pine, one of the camps where we were incarcerated. We will go to remember the gross violation of our civil and human rights.
“This statue we gather around this morning tells the story not only of a crime against women but more than that, a crime against humanity.
“The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also a crime against humanity. The sobering atomic bomb exhibit in Hiroshima should be duplicated throughout the world as a reminder of that tragic event.
“The women on the banners behind me deserve to be honored on this International Women’s Day, and the young Korean woman depicted by the statue before us belongs not only here, but wherever there are any people possessing a spark of humanity.
“And she serves, as well, as a reminder of the sexual slavery that continues to exist in America and the rest of the world.”
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.
Photos by Harold Kameya