Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SILENCE: thoughts on the Japanese colonial legacy

Koreans executed during Japanese colonial period (marked with bullet practice signs)

That Koreans are a post-colonial (or even neo-colonized) people hardly seems to come up in the celebratory spin of the country as an economic powerhouse. That Japanese colonialism didn't simply 'end' in 1945 is rarely questioned.

What we keep returning to in our New York discussions is the deep-rooted impact of Japanese colonial occupation on not just the material realities of the time, the obvious exploitation of both Korean resources and labor, but also how the legacy is also psychic, relational, generational in terms of the way it fragmented and displaced and divided people from each other- which was then aped and magnified by the US military government when it occupied the south in 1945.

Who is the "I" of colonial Korea? What is the spectrum of complicity and resistance among Koreans living in this period? How do we address the fact that the social, economic, and political infrastructure of modern south Korea has been built on the foundation of those Koreans who benefited the most from collaborating with colonial Japan, who are still in power today?

And for all the witnesses and survivors speaking out decades later (such as those 할머니 who are still living among the 100,000-200,000 Korean comfort women), how hard was it to break the silence in the authoritarian, patriarchal nationalism of south Korea?

And so someone mentioned that what we are doing, what is still necessary, is excavating. Instead of History, we are unearthing histories - of everything that could not be spoken, that was taboo, that was buried, muffled, silenced, stored in secret all these years.

What do these histories mean to us now? How do they live on in the present for you?