Award winning writer and educator, M. Evelina Galang, runs into a lot of people who don’t realize that Koreans were not the only WWII “comfort women.” “Comfort women” is the euphemism for girls and women abducted and raped by Japanese soldiers across the so-called co-prosperity sphere, including Korea through China and the Philippines. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports on Galang’s new book, Lolas' House, which opens a window onto the Filipina experience.
"In 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a statement to the world and he said he did not feel there was enough evidence that the “comfort women” were coerced."
M. Evelina Galang, award winning fiction writer and educator says that statement was a turning point for her.
Galang: I had already been doing a lot of research talking with surviving Filipina "comfort women" of WWII and my thought was, I have seen the evidence, I have touched the evidence, I have spoken to the evidence.
Galang: We now know it happened in China and Japan, and Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia. So we wanted to make sure these stories were documented for all the women. When we hear of all the women coming out under the hashtag #MeToo, these stories are still happening, right? We’re seeing evidence of the need for this kind of conversation.
Galang has collected the stories of sixteen Filipina “comfort women” in her book, Lolas’ House. Lola is the Tagalog word for grandma, and Galang says Filipina "comfort women" are called that for a reason.
Galang: We call the Filipina comfort women lolas because when they stand and look at you and are being who they are, we recognize ourselves in them. We recognize them as our elders, as our ancestors and as our mothers and grandmothers.
Galang was involved in the passage of U.S. House Resolution 121, calling for an official apology from the Japanese government. Historians say up to 200 thousand women may have been enslaved, though the number may be much higher. In 2013, new estimates by Peipei Qui which include Chinese “comfort women,”put the total number of WWII Japanese sex slaves at 400 thousand, including over one thousand Filipinas.
Galang: One of the things the lolas taught me was, you are much bigger than this. Have mercy on yourself. Secondly,
you have the right to stand up, speak your truth, name the persons who have hurt you, and demand justice, which is what the comfort women have been doing. They understood that when they stood up, oftentimes they would be denied, called liars. There are several of the lolas who have gone to Japan courts over and over again under appeals, reliving these experiences. But they insist on doing it because they know this right to speak your truth is much bigger than the pain they’re feeling.
In 2015, Japan apologized to Korea for its wartime policy and pledged one billion yen ($8.3 million) for a fund to help the remaining 46 South Korean victims. Current South Korean President Moon Jae-in has basically rejected the deal, saying most Koreans consider it insufficient.
In July 2017, the South Korean government released an 18 second video purporting to show “comfort women” filmed by U.S. soldiers in Yunnan Province in 1944. Researchers say it documents the practice and the coercion involved.
Galang says we should have learned from these women long ago.
Galang: There’s this need to summon your own courage and your light. Women can come together. I feel this fight for justice not just for lolas but for all women and girls, is just beginning. I feel like maybe we wouldn’t have to listen to all these younger women who are coming forward now, all the older women who are coming forward now saying, This is what happened to me in Hollywood, this is what happened to me in Iraq as an Azidi girl, this is what happened to me in Nigeria by the Boko Haram when they raped me, maybe we would not have to repeat this war on women constantly.
In 1998 or ‘99, Galang was stunned by a Centers for Disease Control survey that showed Filipina Americans had the highest rate of attempted suicide among teenagers in San Diego.
Galang: This is what got me started. I wanted to know what the lolas, the "comfort women" knew, about life, about being a woman, about survival, that gave them the strength to fight to live that these girls in the survey did not know. That was my original question.
They have found joy despite the things that have happened to them. They’re not whiners or complainers. They’re so bound and determined to rise higher than what has happened to them. They answered my questions, just by being with me, and living their lives and letting me see how, how they’re going about seeking justice.
Recently a U.N. Human Rights Council working group report urged Japan to apologize and pay compensation to “comfort women.” Last Friday, the Japanese government said it will “look closely” at the recommendations.