Yong Soo Lee, 87, is consoled during a Board of Supervisors meeting last week regarding a "comfort women" memorial. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Supes support ‘comfort women’ memorial in San Francisco

San Francisco should become the first major U.S. city to install a “comfort women” memorial for the women forced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army, said the Board of Supervisors in approving a controversial resolution Tuesday.

The resolution, introduced by Supervisor Eric Mar, acknowledges the estimated more than 200,000 “comfort women” victims and urges the public installation of a memorial.

The vote attracted international attention. Last week, Yong Soo Lee, an 87-year-old “comfort woman” survivor, flew into San Francisco from Korea to call upon the board to approve the resolution amid the growing movement to draw attention to the issue.

But the proposal drew opposition by those who downplayed or denied the atrocity to others who felt it unfairly focused on Japan.

“Speaking truth to power is one critical lesson that I have learned from ‘Grandma’ Lee,” Mar said. “Breaking silence over generation and over decades is what we are talking about here today.”

In addressing some of the opposition, Mar agreed to add several amendments Tuesday, including one proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener, which Mar said was an “OK concession.”

That amendment said, “Japan is not the only country that has victimized women, although these actions by other countries do not in any way excuse the actions of the Japanese Imperial Army.”

Among the opponents who attended Tuesday’s vote was Janice Mirikitani, a poet and co-founder of Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin.

Mirikitani, who was among other Japanese Americans imprisoned in a U.S. internment camp, called Mar’s initial resolution “Japan bashing.” As for the version approved, she said, “I feel like it’s a compromise.”

The debate is far from over. A memorial in a public park would require additional city approval. “There are some forces that want to bury this and to claim that it shouldn’t be on public land,” Mar noted after the vote.

Mirikitani said she would prefer a living memorial, such as “a safe house for women who are really vulnerable.”

Judith Mirkinson, a human rights activist with the National Lawyers Guild, said in a statement that the tragedy of human trafficking is occurring around the world and right here in San Francisco. “The memorial should remind us all of Grandma Lee’s courage and commitment to protect all women’s humans rights.”

an FranciscoBoard of SupervisorsCity of Osakacomfort womenEric MarGrandma Leehuman traffickingJapanese Imperial ArmyJapantownLincoln ParkPoliticsPortsmouthPortsmouth SquareToru HashimotoWorld War IIYong Soo Lee

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