Californian Town Honors Former Sex Slaves

      August 01, 2013 09:16

      Around 300 spectators watched the unveiling of a statue of a young woman on Tuesday in a park in Glendale on the outskirts of Los Angeles commemorating Asian women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

      The 1 m tall statue is a replica of one that stands in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and was erected atop a stone slab explaining the history of what the Japanese euphemistically refer to as "comfort women."

      This is the first statue of its kind outside of Korea and the result of two years of efforts by Korean Americans in California.

      Five percent of Glendale’s 200,000 people are ethnic Koreans. The central park is a busy part of the town next to the library and shopping mall. Last year, the city also dedicated July 30 to the memory of the victims.

      On July 30, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Japanese government apologize to the former sex slaves and teach children about them in Japanese schools.

      Flanked by Glendale city officials, Kim Bok-dong, a former comfort woman, poses with a statue honoring her fellow victims in a park in Glendale, Los Angeles on Tuesday.

      The Japanese government complained about Tuesday's event. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday said the Japanese government asked the mayor of Glendale and city officials not to set up the statue, saying the matter should not be treated as a "political or diplomatic" issue.

      The plan faced many obstacles. Around 100 Japanese residents of Glendale stormed into a public hearing and protested, and opponents launched an e-mail campaign urging city lawmakers to veto the statue. The Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles published an op-ed piece in a newspaper stating its opposition to the statue.

      Laura Friedman of the Glendale City Council said the city was "pressured" not to set up the statue and received "hundreds of protest e-mails." "But the truth cannot be suppressed nor can it remain hidden."

      Some Japanese Americans stepped up to condemn the atrocities committed by imperial Japan during World War II. Kathy Masaoka, head of Japanese-American activist group Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, said Japan has not apologized for the crimes it committed during World War II, including the mobilization of sex slaves and added Japanese history education is "wrong."

      U.S., Chinese and Japanese media covered the event. Japanese reports accused the Korean American Forum of California, which spearheaded the construction of the statue, of "triggering conflict" between Korea and Japan.

      But Youn Suk-won of the forum said the statue "is the result of grass-roots efforts involving U.S. citizens and their donations." Frank Quintero, a former mayor of Glendale who played a key role in bringing the statue to the park said it honors the suffering of the victims and will allow people in the town to learn about history.

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