On Saturday, May 20th, my Seminar and Graduate Thesis Research group welcomed a peace activist and former comfort woman to our class. The speaker was arranged through a group called Lila Pilipina, an organization of Filipino survivors of rape and military sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War II. The women are Lolas for Peace, or Grandmothers for Peace. For 90 minutes, we listened to her testimony and asked her questions about her experiences.
Before the talk took place, students expressed some nervousness about the session. One student remarked they were curious but afraid of asking questions. Another wondered if the contentiousness of the issues surrounding the comfort women were just a problem of the differences in how history is understood in different countries, and wondered what the difference was between comfort women and sexual violence that happens everywhere. A third student expressed surprise at the nationality of the speaker, saying they thought it was only an issue between Korea and Japan. Going into the talk, then, students had strongly mixed feelings but were in general interested and wanted to learn more.
The testimony was done in Tagalog with English translation provided by our department's very own Professor Shirley Ando. It was at times difficult to listen to the experiences of our speaker, but her message was an important one. Today, survivors are working for peace and have three main goals: First, they want an apology from the Japanese government. Second, they want the correct history, including their stories, represented in textbooks and in history. Finally, they want compensation from the Japanese government.
Students had many questions for our speaker, and the session ended far too quickly for all of them. It was challenging in many ways, but it was an important and valuable 90 minutes.
After the session, students were uniformly positive about the experience. One remarked that it was a valuable "chance to know about something that wasn't write on book" or included in their history classes. Many noted that the testimony made historical issues "real" for them: "I couldn't believe what Japanese soldiers done to comfort women before hearing her experience." Many said that Lola's story made them aware of how history was personal, national, and global.
In general, student feedback revealed a deeper understanding of the issue, as revealed in the following comments:
Student A: "I didn't know comfort women was exactly exist, because Japanese government don't teach us at all. Even media too. But, comfort women was exist and they were really suffered from it... I must know about it, as Japanese"
Student B: “It was a really good and rare opportunity to know about history which we can't know in our daily life."
Student C: "In Japanese, there is no information in history book. I think that we need to know about comfort women problem after we listened her talking."
Student D: "When Japanese think about sex slavery, we only think about Korean women sexual slavery. But we must think and consider about in Philippines and more... All Japanese students should know about the history of sex slavery."
In the end, students remarked on the impact hearing
Lola speak directly had on them, describing the experience as "vivid"
even though it was "confusing" and "frightening”. The majority
of students expressed a desire to learn more. In conclusion, as one student
noted, the history is "so negative, sad," but we have much to learn
from it. I join my students in hoping that the lessons of the past become a way
to build a peaceful future.
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