U.S. Demands Apology for 'Comfort Women' - Part II

Evelina Galang is a University of Miami professor and researcher of comfort women in the Philippines. Galang is documenting the remaining survivors' stories and talks about her work.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

For another voice on this issue, we go to Evelina Galang. She is a University of Miami professor and has interviewed women in the Philippines who were enslaved in comfort camps by the Japanese military during World War II. She and others want an official apology from Japan.

Thanks so much for coming in.

Professor EVELINA GALANG (English, University of Miami): Thanks, Cheryl.

CORLEY: Let's first talk about the resolution itself.

Prof. GALANG: Sure.

CORLEY: And as I understand it by looking at your Web site and reading some of your writings, is that you think it's important to have this apology happen.

Prof. GALANG: Absolutely. I think it's important for many reasons. First of all, the women were silent for 50 years out of a culture of shame and embarrassment, and finally got that courage to come forward and ask Japan themselves for this form of apology for an acknowledgment and to have it placed in our history books and textbooks. And if you could see them, you would really understand the courage that it takes to do this. And it's time that we address the past so that we can move on to the future. And for that reason I think the apology is very, very important.

CORLEY: Why do you think it's become so controversial?

Prof. GALANG: Quite frankly, I don't know why it's controversial. It seems to me a very simple thing to honor our elders, and to heed their words, and to listen to their lessons and what can they teach us for the future. We need to respect one another as human beings. We need to take a look at the past and try to understand that maybe we're not the ones responsible for that past and we can do the right and noble thing now. And that's what they're doing. They're teaching us something about the future - how we ought to behave in the future.

CORLEY: Well, Japan has already said, though, that it has apologized. Its prime minister has issued an apology.

Prof. GALANG: Really?

CORLEY: Yes.

Prof. GALANG: When did they do that? Because what I have read…

CORLEY: Uh-huh.

Prof. GALANG: …is that the prime minister has said that he's sorry the women have gone through this. That he's sorry that they have suffered. But I've not heard the prime minister actually say that the government of Japan apologizes directly to the women and takes responsibility for this issue. I have not heard that apology.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. So the statement that was made in the 1990s, mid-1990s…

Prof. GALANG: Right.

CORLEY: …was just a statement as far as your concerned but not…

Prof. GALANG: Right. And also - well, that statement is called the Kono Statement. And that statement is coming from a private individual, which is again different than a government coming forward and taking responsibility for the things that they've allowed to happen in the past.

CORLEY: Well, most of the conversation about comfort women and the war is about Korean women who were enslaved, and not much mention of the Philippines. And I know you've examined this issue with a group of women known as lolas. Is that the correct…

Prof. GALANG: Well, sure. The actually name of the group is Liga ng mga Lolang Pilipina and otherwise known as Lila - Lila-Pilipina. And lolas - lola is a Tagalog word for grandmother. So these women - these charming, charming women, you know, are now in their 80s and 90s and we endearingly call them lolas. Yeah.

CORLEY: I was going to say, they must be quite elderly by now.

Prof. GALANG: Yes.

CORLEY: How many people are we talking about? How many women?

Prof. GALANG: Well, in the Philippines, over 1,000 women were abducted by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II but only 173 have formally come forward. And of that 173 - and that would have been starting in 1992 - of those women, 54 have already passed away and they've not been able to see this justice.

CORLEY: Rape is often such a taboo topic in a variety of communities, and especially, I think, among older women. How did you get these women to talk to you? And how did the community feel once they actually started speaking out?

Prof. GALANG: For me, it was easy. By the time I reached them, these are women who had already come forward. And I was very careful when we went there. I really wanted to be respectful of their stories and their experiences, so we didn't start out asking for formal interviews.

My students and I spent time with them, dancing with them, singing with them, translating some of their letters to the Japanese government for them. And in that kind of give and take building up trust and friendship, their stories started to come forward. And right before I was ready to leave they said, when are you going to sit us down for our formal interview? Because they really wanted to tell their story.

CORLEY: Do you have an example perhaps of, you know, one of the experiences that they offered or perhaps a comment from one of the letters that they…

Prof. GALANG: Well, I think that, for example - I was just there recently. I just arrived back from the Philippines last Sunday, and one of the things that one of the lolas was telling me about was many of the Filipina and Filipino students are coming to them now, university students, and they are learning their histories.

But there have also been young women who are actual rape victims who've come to them and who are really committed to helping them, but they haven't come forward and they haven't confronted the situation in their own personal lives.

One of the lolas is telling me that she actually said to her, you need to come forward. You need to come forward and you need to confront your attacker, and you need to be able to speak up for yourself. And the young woman said (Tagalog spoken). I'm so ashamed, you know. And she said, you don't have anything to be ashamed about. You didn't ask for it.

CORLEY: So you've seen quite a change in these women, I would imagine, since you first started speaking with them?

Prof. GALANG: Yes, I have. And not just in terms of aging. While I was there five years ago and they were still about 30, 35 of them alive and incredibly strong and resilient and, you know, I just witnessed the passing of so many of them. There were only a handful, you know, under 20 that were there this last couple of weeks that I was there. And they really come from being these women who are angry and looking for their justice to compassionate and wise women who can really see the larger picture.

CORLEY: Are they hopeful or do they think that a formal apology will ever come?

Prof. GALANG: They are always hopeful, and they keep telling me that they're going to fight even beyond death, whether or not they will get it.

(Soundbite of music)

CORLEY: And we were speaking with Evelina Galang, a professor at Miami University.

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