As of this week, the city of Glendale—a suburb just a few miles from downtown L.A.—is home to a statue paying tribute to comfort women. Since the statue is close to both my home and the YOMYOMF office, I decided to stop by on the way to work this morning to see it for myself.
As I’m sure most of our readers know, comfort women were young girls from countries like Korea, China and the Philippines forcibly taken against their will by the Japanese imperial army in WWII to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers.
It’s an issue that seven decades later still comes with some controversy as some Japanese nationals continue to refuse to acknowledge that comfort women even existed. The Glendale statue has received its share of controversy including messages of protests from Japanese nationals and about 100 Japanese Americans voiced their protest to the City Council last month calling the comfort women “liars”. But to the city’s credit, they unveiled the statue and there it stands in the middle of Glendale’s Central Park, right outside the library.
Back in 2007, I was fortunate enough to meet Lee Yong Soo Halmoni, who was a comfort woman. She had come to the U.S. to testify before the House of Representatives on behalf of H.Res.121—a bill “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as `comfort women’, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.”
The resolution passed and it was a moving experience to be in the company of Lee Halmoni, then in her 80s, when the news broke. It was a small victory, and largely a symbolic one, but even that meant the world to her. A group of us went out to karaoke in Koreatown that night to celebrate and she had a level of energy that put most of us younger folks to shame—she sang, joked, flirted until the wee hours of the morning.
The next day she returned to Korea to continue to do what she said was her life’s work—to educate the world about comfort women and to “not die” until Japan officially apologized and provided reparations to the surviving women and their families. Toward that goal, she and the other surviving protest in front of the Japanese Consulate in Seoul at noon every Wednesday.
It’s been some time since I’ve thought about Lee Halmoni so in that sense, I’m also thankful for this new statue for reminding me. As for Lee Halmoni, I’d like to think she’s still alive and protesting with all the energy she had when I met her every Wednesday at noon and that she’ll get the closure she seeks.