San Francisco has heart

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Sept 24, 2015 - 19:22
  • Updated : Sept 24, 2015 - 19:22

In the good news department, San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to install a memorial in honor of the “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The passage of the highly contested resolution was a remarkable feat, and living proof that San Francisco has heart. 
Lee Yong-soo (in hanbok) sits in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors chamber, where a memorial to the “comfort women” was approved unanimously Tuesday.

The happiest person in the chamber was Lee Yong-soo, who first broke her silence about her enslavement almost 50 years after the ungodly tortures she experienced at the hands of the imperial Japanese army during WWII. She has been speaking out for the voiceless women ever since, demanding an apology from the Japanese government. She came all the way from Korea to support the San Francisco memorial.

Supervisor Eric Mar put it succinctly in a public hearing on Sept. 17: “We are here to honor those who break the silence.”

There were those who opposed the memorial, arguing that the memorial would split the Asian community in San Francisco, as well as expose Japanese-Americans to racial harassment.

The biggest problem I had was with the deniers, who came to the chambers to discredit Lee, virtually calling her a liar with her sitting right there. They argued that she and all the “comfort women” were prostitutes who were conducting business with the soldiers, not conscripted and kidnapped. Their arguments were pathetic and crass.

I can’t imagine what went through Lee’s mind when she heard these speakers one after another. She remained poised throughout until, at one point, she shouted back at one of the deniers, “You were not there!”

Supervisor Jane Kim, in seconding Eric Mar’s motion, said that she had grown up hearing about these horrible stories from her parents and that these women were raped 20, 30 times a day.

Notwithstanding the inhumane behavior on the part of the deniers, I feel sympathy for those Japanese-Americans who endured the horrors of the internment and concentration camps during WWII.

They are victims of racial profiling and their struggle is symptomatic of the racism that is rooted in the American consciousness.

They see that the fight against sex slavery would somehow harm them. I totally understand that sentiment. All my life, when Korea did something stupid ― and there were many incidences ― people looked at me as if there was something wrong with me.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is correct in passing the resolution and to use the memorial for healing and educational purposes. At the same time, they are being sensitive to the victims of racial profiling in America.

In voting for the resolution, Supervisor David Campos thanked Lee for bringing her “gift of truth” to San Francisco.

At bottom, what moved the people of San Francisco was summed up by a number of leaders from women’s groups, who chorused, “If we let this go without calling it out, we are complicit to the crimes that happened 70 years ago,” noting that violence against women and girls still persists.

“This memorial helps break the cycle,” they said.

For Lee, 88 years old, her favorite song for her remaining days would be “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” I look forward to seeing her again in a year, when I hope she will participate in dedicating the memorial. 

By John H. Cha

John H. Cha, an award-winning translator of Korean literature into English, writes in Oakland, California. He has written several biographies about Korean and American leaders, including “Willow Tree Shade: The Susan Ahn Cuddy Story,” “The Do or Die Entrepreneur,” “Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il,” and “A Small Key Opens Big Doors.” ― Ed.