A colleague and I have been dreaming of and planning for a website on oral narratives of Chamorro elders (manamko’) and other significant voices in our community for over a year now. We’ve been fortunate to receive grants from our college and a local foundation for the arts and humanities to support this project.
One of the sparks for our project was making the connection between the institutionalized rapes of Chamorro women by Japanese invaders during World War Two, as was imposed upon so many others in Asia and the Pacific also, and ongoing intersectional oppression of Chamorro and Pacific women today.
In researching for the project, I found Resolution No. 62, approved in 2007 by I Liheslaturan Guåhan:
“Relative to supporting H. Res. 121 introduced in the 110th Congress expressing the sense that the Government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women, known to the world as “comfort women,” into sexual slavery during Japan’s colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War 11; and to request that Guam be included among the Pacific Islands affected.”
Res. 62 also states that “the Government of Japan officially authorized the Imperial Armed Forces to acquire young women, who are now known to the world as ‘ianfu’ or ‘comfort women,’ for the purpose of sexual servitude during Japan’s occupation and control of foreign lands prior to and during World War 11 . . . the ‘comfort women’ system of forced military prostitution by the Government of Japan, considered unprecedented in its cruelty and magnitude, included gang rape, forced abortions, humiliation, and sexual violence resulting in mutilation, death, or eventual suicide in one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the Twentieth (20th) Century.”
Res. 62 further stated, “H. Res. 121 refers to Japanese schools using new textbooks that downplay the atrocities such as the tragedy of the ‘comfort women’ and Japanese officials recently expressing a desire to dilute or rescind Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono’s 1993 statement on the ‘comfort women,’ which expressed the Government’s sincere apologies and remorse.”
I have appreciated, in researching this topic, those who call into question the Japanese euphemism. Madeleine Bordallo refers to “rape,” not comfort, in her 2009 speech on the House floor.
The parameters of simple search terms are reminding me of how we look at issues: the Japanese euphemism? a broad American term? euphemistic expressions used by Chamorro people (such as “palao’an guerra”)? Perhaps none of those is appropriate.
I often feel when thinking about this topic that it is unspeakable, almost literally unspeakable. That silence has been enforced so deeply. That the words to speak are absent from language.
Marilyn Frye wrote on this regarding “lesbianism” in an essay that will probably resonate with me for the rest of my life, “To Be and Be Seen: The Politics of Reality,” and silence and erasure apply to so many different marginalized peoples.
So we look for new words, for the comfort of new constructs to manage or organize the past, the present, and the future.
There is a lyric from an old church song that refers to the phrase “chalani hit.” Lead us. Make a path for us. As I look forward to this project, and the work it will encompass, as well as the deep pain, I come back to that phrase. To the idea that together we can make a path for the children of the future.