Redwood High School, Larkspur, California
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant
“When you hear someone speaking from their own experience, it changes you… you being to understand where they are coming from. That understanding is the beginning of peace.” — Amy Goodman
It began with a simple question.
“Are you married?”
Amused, we shared in laughter, as he’d asked the two participants on the trip with the greatest zest for buffoonery. It was almost with lightheartedness that Laoshi Gao (Xiongfei Gao) began to explain that there was a time when Chinese citizens needed to obtain “good citizenship standing”, an identifier and document from the Japanese government, if one was to be married.
The more Laoshi spoke, the softness around his eyes along with his smile faded. He sat a bit straighter and spoke with increasing restraint, which at times broke with a hint of anger. As the details of his story continued to unfold, he looked distant, as though he were lost within the story himself. A typically emphatic group, we sat in silence.
Laoshi Gao shared with us a story that began with celebration, a promise of union and love, a story that was supposed to be of new beginnings. As we waited for translation, we anticipated the worst, but hoped for some reprieve; however, none came. At each crux we all became more withdrawn as there seemed to be no sparing of cruelty and no end to the loss his family endured. His story was reflective of the somber realities of war, that for so many there is only abuse of power and indignation. Somber and stunned, it was difficult to do anything but simply attempt to process the magnitude of war, and how one person or soldier can change a family for generations.
Perhaps one of the most profound moments of this trip came when Laoshi Gao told us that this was the first time he’d shared this story; on some nights he’s unable to sleep as countless others run through his mind. Unanimously, the participants who were there shared in his sorrow. Simultaneously, it was a moment of unimaginable honor and privilege– to receive and hold something he’d been unable to share for decades.
Meeting the victims on this trip has made it clear that power and healing lies in being able to share what they survived to people who are willing to listen, as so much of their experiences have been denied and ignored. The collecting, sharing, and preservation of what happened, the dedication to bring light and justice to the past can bring some meaning to the obscurity and otherwise harrowing atrocities of war. The victims who have come forward, did so with courage but also have found some solace. One of my greatest hopes is that through the support and dedication of the participants that this history will be shared widely and justice will ensue.
The dedication of ALPHA to bring this history into the global consciousness of today through organizing this trip and allowing us to meet with prominent historians, professors, lawyers, students, activists, and survivors has been nothing less than indescribably inspirational. My words simply cannot describe the tremendous gratitude and admiration I hold for this experience.