Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Roots in Okinawa

"The US military has been stationed in Okinawa since 1945, occupying almost 20% of the main island where 1.36 million people live. In the fierce "Battle of Okinawa" at the end of WWII, 25% of the population died. When Okinawans who had been displaced by the battle returned after the war, they found their lands taken by the US military.

During the Korean War in the 1950s, Okinawa functioned as an outpost. Women working in bars around the bases faced brutal violence, rape, and murder by soldiers. During the Vietnam War, when all US soldiers finished their last training in Okinawa before deployment in Vietnam, many women, especially those in the sex industry, were raped and killed. Many who were assaulted were deeply traumatized and severely suffer to this day.

US soldiers' sexual crimes know no national boundaries. On November 1, 2005, a woman was raped by a US Marine while three others looked on. The four Marines belonged to a unit stationed in Okinawa, but were at Subic Bay participating in a joint "war-on-terror" exercise with the Philippines military. On December 4, 2006, only one of them, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, was convicted in Philippines court, while the others were acquitted and immediately returned to Okinawa. Smith may face 20 to 40 years of imprisonment, though he has since been returned to US custody and many doubt that he will serve his sentence.

In a similar case in Okinawa in June 2001, the sentence was only three years, demonstrating a clear contrast between the criminal justice systems of Japan and the Philippines regarding sexual crimes. In fact, the US government has agreed to turn suspects over to Japanese authorities in cases of rape because of the light sentences for sexual crimes in Japan."

- Suzuyo Takazato - "Outposts of Violence: Sixty Years of Women's Activism Against US Military Bases"

Suzuyo Takazato is co-founder of the activist group Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence.

From a regular newsletter I receive via email, published by Pete Shimazaki (doktor). I had learned of the death of a relative of mine:

"I leave you with the words of an Okinawan elder and non-violent resistance encampment that he told some Okinawan-Americans from Hawai`i during the 2006 Uchinanchu Taikai before he unfortunately passed away last year: "Tell the diasporic Uchinanchu (Okinawans) that if we lose Henoko (to the military), we'll have lost Okinawa (as a whole)."(Mr. Kinjo to Dr. Joyce Chinen)."

I have known of the aforementioned struggle of Henoko, since my last return to Okinawa in 1995; when meeting most all of my relatives (including my half brother. Mr Kinjo words strike my heart, even though I am by blood only partially Okinawan - I, nonetheless consider myself as a part of 'the diasporic uchinanchu', having many relatives in Okinawa. Both of these issues have a profound and deep influence as to why I am so radical in my stand with human rights and peace. My brother in Okinawa was one of the consequences of the terrible way Okinawan women were treated by much of the military there. He is not with me in this country, which he has full rights to be here, but because a US Marine sergeant who lives in San Diego refuses to admit being the father - my brother was not granted the right to live here. So for 50 years we have been separated. We should have been together as a family. Even our mother is gone. She, after seemingly failing to bring her first son to America, committed suicide when I was only 2 years old. No U.S official nor red Cross official notified my family in Okinawa that she was dead. They learned of her death when after my father died, my American grandmother had to tell them some 12 years later. MY Okinawan family thought she was angry with them because her letters stopped and they did not know why for those 12 years. When I returned to Okinawa in 1995, I was shown where my mother grew up and lived, and was shown the letters she had written. Some of these letters were read to me by cousin. I* am 52 years old, and my brother is in his late 50's, I am not sure. But when I met him for the most part, the first time in my life. He told me in Japanese, that he remembered holding me, his little brother who was about to leave to America with mother and father. To this day, it pains me deeply that we are such a wide distance apart, not only by the Pacific Ocean but by language and culture. When we saw each other at the airport in Okinawa, we embraced each other, my Okinawan grandmother spoke, saying the lost son has returned.

Now that I am 52, completely settled in the language and culture of America, will I ever return to Okinawa? Will I ever be able to get to know more about my brother and the rest of the family? At this point, such seems like such an impossibility. I do not have the money, I still cannot speak the language, neither Japanese nor the Okinawan dialect. I am very ill with diabetes and other complications, and may not survive the coming decade. Much of my family has died, and many still have never met me. For many years I have identified with the fable of the Flying Dutch man who in exile could never really find a country to settle in and be a part of. But I need so much to share this with whomever can listen and become sensitive to us who were as much the victims of war as those who were actually killed in war.

I walked the streets of Naha, where I was born, and the village where my mother was born and raised. I traveled from one end of Okinawa to the other. I so much wanted to stay, but was not able to. The Japanese government was not ready to let me. So now, here I am, a member of the diasporic uchinanchu, dreaming of the impossible.

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