About 20 Korean Americans protested on Tuesday against Mayor Dave Weaver’s recent critiques of a memorial in Central Park that honors women taken as sex slaves by the Japanese Army during World War II.
The protesters held up signs that read “Glendale Small City Big Heart” and “End Sexual Violence Against Women” outside City Hall.
During the council meeting, several protesters said they were disappointed that the mayor would tell Japanese reporters and his counterpart at Glendale’s sister city in Japan that the 1,110-pound statue honoring so-called comfort women should not have been erected.
“It broke my heart,” said Seung Min Lim of Los Angeles. “We should not turn our faces away and act like nothing has happened. At that memorial we can remind ourselves and our kids that horrible things can happen during a war, especially to women and children, and I think it is our responsibility to prevent this kind of horrible tragedy again.”
The statue has stirred controversy for months, even before it was erected on July 30.
But Weaver added fuel to the fire when he started telling Japanese media that Glendale should not have installed the statue because the comfort women issue is an international one between Japan and South Korea. On top of that, he sent a letter in October to the mayor of Glendale’s sister city in Japan, Higashiosaka, explaining his deep regret.
As Korean Americans complained about his recent comments — which directly contradict the sentiment of the four other council members — Weaver sat calmly at the dais. But when his colleagues, who were also disappointed by his letter to the Japanese mayor, began to speak, he sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
Weaver did not comment about the public condemnation. When the council meeting ended, he was escorted out of council chambers by a Glendale Police officer, refusing to be interviewed by reporters.
Chang Y. Lee — a member of the Korean-Glendale Sister City Assn. which lobbied to bring the $30,000 statue to Glendale and raised funds to pay for it — said he was disappointed by Weaver’s comments.
“Our community was very appreciative for what the city did, but to hear these types of messages coming from the city was very disturbing,” Lee said. “This is not a conflict between communities. This is not a conflict between the countries, but this is a purely human rights issue.”
Supporters of the statue say it sheds light on a difficult time in history and stands as a symbol against sexual abuse in general.
While advocates for former comfort women say Japan hasn't sufficiently apologized to the estimated 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other women coerced into prostitution, opponents disagree. They say an apology issued by a former Japanese prime minister in the 1990s should have been enough.
Some Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans believe the women acted willingly, although many former comfort women have publicly shared disturbing stories of their servitude, and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims on its website that some women based in war-area brothels were “deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery.”
Harold Kameya, a member of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, said while Japanese opponents of the statue often vehemently express their anger, there are Japanese nationals who support the plight of the comfort women.
“It is unfortunate that the Korean Comfort Women sculpture has created the controversy existing among the Japanese and Korean media,” Kameya said.
Joachim Suk-Won Youn, president of the Korean American Forum of California, said the mayor’s comments are stoking that controversy by spreading mixed messages in Japan about Glendale’s stance on the statue, which was approved by the four other council members.
While some council members said they respected Weaver’s right to express his opinion, they thought sending a note on Glendale letterhead to a Japanese city leader was inappropriate.
“A vote was taken. A majority of four agreed that this was the right thing for this city and it should have been left at that,” said Councilman Frank Quintero.