Around this time last June, I traveled in Okinawa to do fieldwork and to attend the 70th
anniversary of Okinawa Memorial Day. I remember the weather being humid and unpredictable between rain/sunshine throughout my stay, but skies were clear for June 23, this day of remembrance.
As a Japanese American, I felt conflicted while learning about the devastating history of the Battle of Okinawa, a battle that forced Okinawans to fight and die for their colonizer Imperial Japan against the US. Over 200,000 civilians died from the bloodshed that took place on the ground, on their own land which no longer belongs to them. This trip made me rethink how overseas US presence harms the local people it purports to “protect”, how the effects of colonization distort cultural and national identities, how we grieve and value the loss of certain lives over others when tragic events take place.
I think I felt conflicted because, until last June, I didn’t know that much about Okinawa other than its appeal as a ~tropical getaway~ and the sugar cane fields. But after studying about its history and having the privilege to visit different areas, I realized that the central government and the US silences the opposition voice of the people, dismissing them as uncooperative in bilateral relations. With silence comes absence of awareness about these indigenous struggles that not only take place in Okinawa but in other places around the world– Honduras, Palestine, Guam, Diego Garcia. Hell, none of my history textbooks in my American public education ever mentioned the Battle of Okinawa. After all, the winner gets to write history.
In light of the recent murder of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro at the hands of a male US civilian worker, has anything really improved for the people in this prefecture? How can the government ignore the persistent outcry of its own people, those who live through the trauma of their ancestors?
The wound remains fresh, a constant reminder of the lives that continue to be slain at the hands of colonial powers.
To this day I still think about Okinawa.