Voices in Focus: Monument Controversy Draws Attention to Comfort Women’s Ordeal

In our perusal of the ethnic and community press today, we came across two follow-ups on the Palisades Park Comfort Women monument; a report on Irish-American soccer fans; and a piece on a young Latino activist-turned-politician.

Students from the Omega United Methodist Church visited the Comfort Women monument in Palisades Park, N.J. (Photo via the Korea Daily)

* The controversy over a small monument in Palisades Park, N.J. that commemorates the Asian women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s army during World War II seems to have galvanized a new drive to remember the “Comfort Women” and their ordeal. A Japanese government effort to remove the monument, which they argue offers a misleading version of the history, has infuriated Koreans.

The Korea Daily ran a story about a Korean church youth group’s visit to the Palisades Park monument. And Women’s eNews ran a column by Rochelle G. Saidel, who draws a connection between the New Jersey monument and efforts by Bosnian women to place a plaque at the site of their repeated wartime rapes, as depicted in the PBS documentary “I Came to Testify.”

The film portrays a groundbreaking 2001 trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands, at which rape victims from Foca, Bosnia, testified. For the first time in history, three perpetrators were convicted of rape as a crime against humanity.

In one part of the film, some of the victims returned to their hometown after the war and tried to place a plaque at the site of their repeated rapes. They were met by a violent crowd and a large cordon of policemen, all of whom prevented them from accomplishing their mission.

These brave Bosnian women were making an effort to mark the site where the crimes against them had been committed. In the case of the comfort women, the memorial is a small plaque far from the scene of the crime.

For me, the violent scene in Bosnia and the diplomatic tensions on the outskirts of New York City are about the same thing. In both cases, these women were once considered by their enemies as less than human, or “untermenschen,” the word used by the Nazis in similar circumstances during the Holocaust. In these cases and others, the history of women’s sexual violation in war is being suppressed, rejected and denied.

The New York-based Conor Doyle is traveling to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine via his native Dublin and Hamburg in Germany. (Photo via Irish Echo)

* The Irish Echo reported that Irish an Irish-American soccer fans are flying over to support the Irish team in the European soccer championship EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, which starts on Friday (just as Polish-American fans are for their homeland’s team).

“I want to experience the elation of Ireland scoring a goal in a major championship,” said [Conor] Doyle, a Dubliner who has lived in Manhattan since 2006.  “I have to sample that once in my life – that’s going to be such a buzz.”

“I don’t know when there’ll be another chance,” said Brian O’Connor, an estimator with J.T. Magen, who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two small children.

* And lastly, El Diario La Prensa ran a piece on the young activist Jesus Gonzalez, 27, who last week announced his candidacy for City Council. He will run for the seat vacated by Erik Dilan, is trying to unseat Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. Gonzalez is likely to be endorsed by Velazquez, El Diario reported, as well as the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York, which he is affiliated with.

Among his campaign promises, Gonzalez said he had three priorities: getting the police to reform the practice of stop-and-frisk, ensuring that local schools receive adequate resources to perform as expected, and supporting affordable housing initiatives to ensure diversity in Bushwick, without displacing the area’s less fortunate residents.

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