Tuesday, November 25, 2008

more reflections... [post-reportback styles]

KEEP was an amazing experience for me and I'm grateful that I had the ability to go with the support of my community - friends, allies, family.

It felt like my circle was coming back together on itself and my ends were meeting and connections were being made. Synapses firing and all that.

Last summer I had gone to the first ever US Social Forum (USSF) in Atlanta. Remember? If another world is possible, another US is necessary. While I was there I had the opportunity to meet Go Yookyung from the Eradicators (aka National Campaign for Eradication of Crime by U.S. Troops in Korea) along with other anti-US base activists from the Philippines (Bayan), Okinawa (Okinawa Peace Fighters), Guam (Famoksaiyan), and Hawai'i (DMZ Hawai'i). It was one of those a-ha moments for me. The presence of all these amazing activists from around the Pacific Rim made one thing very clear to me. It's no use fighting the occupying forces in isolation. Your success at pushing US troops out just means that someone else is seeing an increase in troop numbers and if they push some out you know you'll soon be seeing those troops in turn. And so on and so forth...

I have to also shout out Susie Woo who taught a course called "US Imperialism in the Asia Pacific" for greatly expanding my thinking about the forms imperialism takes in these days of economic, cultural and military imperialism. I feel lucky to have had people help me gather these building blocks, who have helped me learn about the impact of US forces in the Pacific Rim.

This summer on KEEP was yet another opportunity to bring these things together. I got to connect with Go Yookyung again and learn more about how the Eradicators' struggle in Korea has shaped up over the past 17 years. We had the chance to hear a bit more about the long and sustained struggle they've committed their lives to. They've been fighting and fighting HARD to change public perception about the bases and US military occupation particularly around sexual violence, environmental damage and national sovereignty.

We also trekked out to Uijongbu to visit Duraebang (My Sister's Place). They're working with the camptown women and it was clear to me the continuing legacies of war and colonization in a place like Uijongbu. We also went to one of the weekly Comfort Women rallies and it was difficult being there knowing that they've fought so hard and so long for recognition and justice. Knowing that their struggle and what is happening in camptowns around bases are related in a very real way also felt really difficult. Thinking about how the occupation hasn't ended and that neoliberalism is presenting the same beast in different clothing...

The other thing I have been thinking a lot about is symbolized by the changing faces of the camptown women in Korea. We learned that many of the women in the camptowns are now coming from the Philippines on "Entertainer" visas and it was hard to internalize the fact that Korea is in a place where there are forces acting on it (through institutional, personal, environmental and economic violence) but it's also now in a position to replicate some of the same oppressive behaviors on these women coming in from the Philippines. Then there's the migrant workers, the mail-order brides, the biracial war orphans, etc. This is not about airing dirty laundry. This is about acknowledging the real layers of oppression, privilege, power and control in place.

It's been really interesting to push myself around thinking about Korea and Korean identity as deeply rooted in experiencing colonization and building national resistance histories yet also being seated in a position of relative privilege on a global scale. It's also been really challenging thinking about how our, the participants of KEEP, position in North America puts us in a similar position. As East Asians within the label of of Asian Pacific Islander and as East Asians within the larger racial justice movement we are not facing the deportation like our Kimay comrades nor are we the usual targets of violent profiling.

And personally I've also been thinking a lot about the privilege that I have as a Yale graduate, as a US citizen and as an English speaker within a lot of these contexts. These are conversations that I've been having with myself and with others in my community but going to Korea has helped me to further contextualize my position in a larger struggle for social justice in the world.

Locally, in Seattle, I've also been thinking a lot about the opportunities we have to connect with many different communities and combine our work. We've been collaborating with NAPAWF Seattle (National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum) and with Pinay sa Seattle (formerly of Gabriela Network) with further plans to work together around reproductive justice issues and around militarism, militarized prostitution and trafficking.

KEEP was, for me, an opportunity to learn and grow in my analysis and in my commitment to a global movement. It has helped me understand some of my reluctance to work solely on Korea related issues and helped me identify the way I want to plug in to that movement. It was also an amazing way to make contact with folks that I hope to deepen in the coming years. In my relative youth, I feel excited about the future and deeply respectful of the work that's come before me.