#2: Why I'm Here
Food pics and the dangers of revisionist history, what a combo!
Greetings, friends, family, and strangers of the internet:
First, I want to thank you for signing up for this newsletter, only to receive nothing in your inbox for over a month. To be fair, I’m finally out of quarantine and have, in some ways, been making the most of that. I’ve reconnected with old friends, which is especially special given that the last time I saw some of them, we said goodbye with a looming question mark about whether we would ever cross paths again.
The last few weeks have simultaneously frantic and sluggish. My first day out in Seoul was not only my first day out of quarantine, but the first time out in…always? It was deeply strange to walk around with the assurance that every. single. person. around me was wearing a mask. On the way to get my SIM card, I took a moment to go sit down in a cafe I used to frequent, long ago. At the door was a contract tracing checkpoint and a temperature check. I ordered my coffee (In Korean! Still in progress!) and sat down by the window, looking over the streets of Hongdae. It had been over a year since I had sat down to read in a cafe and the normalness of it almost made me cry. When things are safe, truly safe, back home, I hope that folks can find ways to slip back into their old routines, even if it’s awkward at first.
If I love you, and you’re reading this, I can’t wait to share a meal with you again soon.
Now, some food pics for your viewing pleasure:
I’ve said in the past that 30 percent of the reason I applied to Fulbright Korea was for the food. Happy to report that wasn’t a joke.
Why I’m Here
(CW warning for references to wartime sexual violence and sexism)
Food and friends aside, why else did I apply? Why else did I put law school on hold, leave my family and friends, and willingly step on a plane during a pandemic? The answer is the halmoni: women from across East and Southeast Asia who faced the unimaginable horrors of wartime sexual slavery during and after World War II. Since the late 1980s/early 1990s, survivors have spoken truth to power in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and a system designed to silence survivors. Close to 30 years later, those who are still with us continue to fight for their right to compensation and a full apology from the Japanese government. Their struggle has consumed my academic interests and given me hope for a better world. Also, I don’t know about you, but there’s something incredible about badass grandmas standing up to a sovereign power who wronged them.
Note: I don’t want to use this space to attempt to give an incomplete history of the “comfort women.” As a start, I encourage you to look here and here. I encourage you to read up on the issue, and as always I’m happy to point folks in the direction of more resources on the subject.
If you are up for it, I encourage you to read the testimonies of survivors. Even now, far-right interests in Japan (and in the United States, at Harvard Law of all places) are attempting to promote ahistorical, sexist lies about the halmoni and what they went through. Historical revisionism of the sort touted by Professor Ramseyer must be denounced and critiqued en masse. At an individual level, however, I cannot overstate the importance of learning about the halmonis struggle and taking their stories at face value. Their struggle is deeply personal, but it is also one for gender justice, for bodily autonomy, and for a refusal to keep silent in the face of imperialist, patriarchal violence. They are an inspiration to me and I hope they can be an inspiration for you, as well.
Best wishes, all. Be safe, and I’ll see you next time.