Another night besieged by restlessness.
Yesterday, I saw an IG story by my dear friend, Rachael, and my former organizing trainers, aF3irm. I sent the clapping hands up as I thought about the United States' history with Central America. At the moment, I said to myself, "it's a well-worn template this country has lived by." Exhausted by the range of feelings I've had to manage all day, all week, all year, I closed IG and moved to the next task.
It is 1am and I am pulled from sleep. Immediately, my mind goes back to the post. I realize that my body is reliving, regurgitating and, reprocessing every emotion I felt as a 5'2, 110lb, Black, female-identified soldier stationed in 2nd Infantry Division, South Korea.
Before I had the fancy words; xenophobia, fetishization, Anti-Asian sentiment, there was Camp Casey, 1999-2000. My time there was marked by the prescient and persistent possibility of sexualized violence.
Within hours of arriving, I was warned, "do not drink the soul juice and if you do, only do so with a trusted battle buddy." "Soul Juice" was the euphemistic name for "Soju;" a popular and weaponized alcoholic drink in South Korea that often served as the gateway to rape and violence of both female American soldiers and local womxn.
Within days, I would learn of the "drinky girls" at the local bars that crowd the margins of the Army post. Stories circulated about "how much Korean womxn loved American dick." "How they were really after a way out and stupid enough to believe that an American would choose them after fucking and sucking their way through entire companies." I was warned to keep my reputation clean. Overwhelmed by all that was wrong with that narrative, I could only respond "drinky girls?" Is that how we refer to actual humans?"
Within weeks, I would learn about a young white male soldier driven "crazy" because he fell for a "drinky girl" who he saw "servicing" someone else. In his "jealous" rage, he drove the company humvee through the back gate. The entrance was shut down for weeks; traffic rerouted. He became a joke - a humanized one. She an afterthought. Another series of warnings, this time, to the male soldiers: "get your mind right, soldier. You don't fall for a drinky girl." Life continued and no one addressed the real underlying issues of mental illness, power, control, colonization, and gender-based violence.
Within months, I would build relationships with two sets of amazing Korean womxn at the JAG Office and staff at the on-post restaurant. Through these relationships, I would intimately learn about the popularity of eyelid surgery after my favorite waitress returned from a two-week vacation excited to show her "new eyes" off. I sat there conflicted. I had not noticed there was a difference in our eyelids and wondered: was this person I cared about invisible to me? Why did this feel so painfully familiar? What aspect of this was I suppose to celebrate? Her saving the money for years to accomplish this goal? A goal that for her, would lead to more economic opportunities? If in celebrating it, was I upholding the same western standards of beauty that I worked every day to resist? What was my stance as a Feminist? As a friend? As an American on occupied land?
Within my first year, I would visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). I gazed in wonder at a country ripped in half; entire families separated. Between pictures with stone still soldiers, I grappled with a site marked by pain and sadness, now serving as a tourist stop for American voyeuristic soldiers. I listened to stories of North Koreans dying from hunger and instantly heard the undertones of the USA being some kind of savior. I cringed at the hypocrisy knowing all that I knew about the lives of womxn outside our front and back gates.
Over 16 months, I had time, space, and lived experience to reckon with the impact of foreign policy on regular, local people. And, specifically womxn. My everyday reality was shaped by what I saw before me: a military more concerned with keeping their male soldiers "occupied," than the safety and dignity of womxn. The fatter children of Korean parents who worked on post and had access to American fried and greasy foods. The abject poverty and vulnerability for exploitation five feet from the gates. The exportation and internalization of American values and ideas. The overwhelming sense of nationalism which led to violence at every turn. The deafening silence surrounding it all.
The attack on the massage parlor reminds me of 1999-2000. I am triggered.
I have witnessed this violence before. It has lived in my body. For over a year, I knew, there was nothing that separated me; a dark-skinned Black womxn, from the "respectable" Korean womxn on post, the "drinky girls" at the local bars, or any other nonwhite and white womxn; we were all dehumanized to varying degrees. Every incident of rape and pillage amplified our commonality and interdependence. I knew then, at 20 years old, there was no "us and them" as the warnings to "keep my reputation clean" tried to create. There was only "US" and "WE."
I knew then, in 1999, as I know now in 2021, we are in this fight for our right to exist beyond the pedestrian, 2nd class citizen offering of "survival." We are in the fight for our right to thrive and be seen. And, we are in this fight together. I want my Asian Sister Comrades to know, I see you. This is not intellectual; this is visceral. I am here for you. Always and forever.