Monday, October 25, 2010

I'm sorry

How difficult is it to say that you are sorry? Especially to a lovely old lady like that. I found myself saying I'm sorry to her repeatedly in my head on Sunday when I met her. I didn't bump into her on the street or accidentally take her seat on the subway. In fact I didn't do anything to her at all except hold her hand and give her about ten deep hugs and each one screamed I'm Sorry
I'm sorry for all that she and the other halmoni (grandmothers) who live at The House of Sharing had to endure during their time as "comfort women" during WWII. The term comfort women was created in relation to a comfort station which in most Asian countries is a bathroom.A place where you could relieve yourself. Comfort stations were set up throughout Japanese occupied east Asia as placed for the men "to relieve their violent nature so that they could focus on fighting." The hundreds of thousands of women who were forced to live in these comfort stations experienced hell on earth every day for years. 
Every dot is a place where comfort stations existed.
The way that the halmoni imagined life.
This copper work represents the life that the halmoni wish that they had. A traditional wedding crown above her head. A husband over her right shoulder and a family over her left. Open loving hands. 

The way that life really turned out for the halmoni. Feeling impaled by bayonets that rise out of the Japanese flag. Traditional wedding outfits impaled and shredded. Hands unable to hold the dreams of peace and the pride in Korea.
The way life really turned out for the halmoni.
The Japanese government systematically used rape as a war tactic in a way that it hadn't been used before. Rape has always been and is currently used as a war tactic however the Japanese government actually set up rape stations for their soldiers. The woman in the video above is just one of thousands that was forced to "service" 60 or more soldiers a day. 
When I listened to her sing and saw her smile I just kept feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt.I have done nothing to hurt her. The Japanese government still has not issued a formal apology to the women that were used as sex slaves during WWII. Just say you are sorry!
The women just want an apology. They want Japan to admit what they did and say that they are sorry. The halmoni that live at the non government supported House of Sharing protest outside of the Japanese embassy every Wednesday. They have protested over 900 times since 1991 and the Japanese government still refuses to say "we are sorry."
A sculpture of the weekly protests against the Japanese government.
The halmoni have faced discrimination in Korea because of what they went through. Many of them were shunned by their own families upon their return to Korea. Of all of the women who went through the pain and torture only a few have had the strength to come forward and admit to what happened to them. They live together at the House of Sharing.
They have the courage to wear yellow each week at the protests so that everyone can identify them.

Pak Ok-son halmoni (my favorite) at a protest.

So I've realized that the only thing that I can do to make change about the past is to let people know about these women and what they have gone through. Many of these women were only 13 or 14 when they were first abducted into the world of sexual trafficking. They are in their 80's and 90's now and they know that the Japanese government is pretty much just waiting for them to die so that they don't have to make and apology. It doesn't matter what the Japanese government is waiting for because enough young people are ready to fight for the halmoni when they are no longer able to fight.The best way for me to let the halmoni know that I believe in their fight is to help them with their fight. 

This 93 year old halmoni loved the Moose Song
and couldn't get enough hugs.

Please read about the halmoni and tell everyone that will listen. The House of Sharing The next time you are feeling giving make a donation (international transfers really aren't that hard). Japan has to take responsibility for what their government did. Korea has to accept these women as citizens and humans and support them in their quest for an apology.
Rape is an act of violence!
It is unacceptable!
 End Of!

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