Reading for the Day: An Open Letter to Japan’s Prime Minister

Today is International Women’s Day and in honor of the occasion — today also happens to be World Kidney Day but don’t really have much to say about that — I’m posting a letter that esteemed colleague and fab fab Filipina writer M. Evelina Galang wrote to Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe (Oh, I do long for that other one, the one with the graying rock-star hair that made Japanese men look suddenly hip, forward-thinking, radical) regarding his week-old statements about the Japanese army’s use of “comfort women” during World War II (For more on this topic, I invite loyal readers to explore work of Nora Okja Keller; or Chang-rae Lee)

Caveat: The following reading is not for the faint-of-heart. If you have delicate nerves/sensibilities, stop reading. Right now.

March 7, 2007
The Eve of International Women¹s Day
An Invitation to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Dear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,

We have never met, but I invite you to meet the women of LILA Pilipina. On March 2, 2007 you announced, ³There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it (the coercion of WWII military sex slaves).²

I¹ve been working with surviving WWII Comfort Women of the Philippines since 1998. Let me take you to Lolas¹ House, a tiny cottage in Quezon City, Manila where women meet and gather the evidence you need to prove there was, indeed, coercion.

If 81-year old Pilar Frias is there, she will tell you that in 1942 she had two bouts with Japanese soldiers before she was taken captive. During the first intrusion, soldiers cornered her and shouted in a foreign tongue. Confused, Pilar didn¹t react. Frustrated, a soldier took his cigarette and held it to her face, tipped the lighted end and burned a hole into her skin. She cried out and the soldier, angry that she should be displeased drew his knife and sliced her nose. Blood poured from her face and as she cried he yanked her by the hair and shoved her head deep into a bin of water. The blood blossomed in a cloud of red. The soldiers stole the family¹s livestock
­ a cow, some chickens and pigs. They raided their supply of rice and other dried goods. During the next invasion, they raped her five times ­ each time it was a different soldier. 17 years old and bleeding, they tied her
at the waist and dragged her along with three other girls. She was made to follow them as they hunted down Philippine guerillas. Strung together by a sturdy hemp rope, the four girls were raped every night, five times a night, a different soldier every time.

Perhaps her words are not proof enough. Then give me your hand. Sometimes when the women tell their stories and they trust that you are listening, they will guide your hands to touch their wounds. Pilar Frias has a wide flat nose and a scar that runs the length and width of it. If you run your fingers along the line of that scar, you can actually feel where the bayonet sliced her. If you run your hands along her waist, you will see the fall and rise of scars where ropes burned her skin as she was dragged through the forests with three other young women and raped each night.

Is this not evidence of coercion?

Since 1993 the women of LILA Pilipina have come forward to the dismay of their families. They have marched the streets and filed petitions to acknowledge the crimes that were placed on their bodies, on their spirits and on the rest of their natural lives. They have traveled to Japan and appeared in your courts to tell their personal stories of sexual abuse. This is not an easy thing to do. If you understand the culture of shame that comes with such experiences, you know that their presence in this house in Quezon City, or at the gates of the Japanese Embassy of in Manila, or in your country¹s courts is evidence enough.

The women are in their eighties, and yes, they are dying. When they are gone it will be much easier to pretend that these wartime atrocities never happened. But women like Pilar Frias have many friends and supporters. We
know their stories. We have touched their wounds and seen the consequences of your military¹s actions on their lives.

There are enough of us who know. Who are working to document their experiences. Who like them, are fighting to stop this act of violence from recurring to another daughter, to a niece, to a child.

This summer, I plan to visit the Lolas of LILA Pilipina to complete the work I¹ve begun. Meet me there, Prime Minister Abe. Sit with us. Listen and then insist you have no evidence to prove there was coercion. Unless you
believe that women lives hold no value — that the wounds that mar their bodies, that stain their minds and have affected their lives hold no value.


M. Evelina Galang
Assistant Professor, English
University of Miami

M. EVELINA GALANG is the author of two works of fiction, HER WILD AMERICAN SELF (Coffee House Press 1006)and ONE TRIBE (New Issues Press, 2006). In 2001, she was the Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in the Philippines where she explore the stories of Surviving Filipina Comfort Women of World War II for her collection of essays, LOLAS¹ HOUSE: Women Living with War. Galang teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami.

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In other news, just received word that fab poet Luisa Igloria has won the 2006 National Writers Union Poetry Contest, judged by Adrienne Rich, for her poem “Descent.”

Watch for it in an upcoming issue of Poetry Flash

YAY for Luisa !!!

1 Comment

  1. April 1, 2007 at 4:33 am

    […] Filipinas fight back against Japanese abusers  […]

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