Elected officials, community leaders and members of civic groups gathered on Tuesday to rally in support of a memorial and street renaming in Flushing that would honor the comfort women of World War II, a euphemism for young Asian females between the ages of 11 and 28 who were treated as sexual slaves by the Japanese military during the war.
If approved, the plan would see the changing of one street name to Comfort Women Memorial Way and the construction of a monument to memorialize the victims.
The name changes would be at either Union Street between Northern Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue or at 39th Avenue between Union Street and College Point Boulevard. The proposed monuments would be located at either Lippmann Plaza, which connects Roosevelt and 39th avenues or on a greenstreet at 156th Street and Northern Boulevard.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) told the audience at JHS 189 that “we are here to remember ... to avoid repeating history. We must not turn a blind eye. Ours is a strong voice for those who can no longer speak. We can’t go back in time and stop the barbaric acts perpetrated by the Japanese soldiers. I stand here to ensure a fitting tribute” will be paid.
It was a sentiment that was echoed throughout the evening. “We cannot learn from history if we forget it,” said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). “We’re here standing with you. We are going to name a street after this atrocity.”
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said, “We stand with you and with these women. They need to be acknowledged.”
Weprin added that there is a need for a proper memorial of what these women went through. It is estimated that around 60 of the victims are still alive.
As of now, according to Gladys Yan, co-chairperson of the Organization of Chinese Americans, Long Island Chapter, which includes Queens, there is only one monument in the United States, in Palisades Park. NJ, “dedicated to recognizing the human rights violation of these women.”
Yan indicated that two delegations of Japanese embassy officials and politicians visited Palisades Park with a request to remove the memorial. The demand was rejected.
The demand, in fact, has been “prompting many Korean groups to plan more monuments across the country,” she said.
“The Japanese parliament should issue a frank apology and provide government reparations to the surviving victims,” Yan said, adding that the first step toward overcoming “a shameful past is acknowledging it.”
Koo has said that the idea for the commemorations came to him following a symposium last December at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, where two Holocaust survivors were united with two comfort women survivors.
Koo estimated that it would take six months for the renaming of the street to take place and even longer for the erection of the monument. Money would have to be raised to design and build it and an endowment provided for its upkeep before the city would consider it.