“PEACE is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty” - Bishop Oscar Romero.
I was fortunate to have met these men: my father, Eleazar Abarquez, who raised and taught me generosity; Senator Daniel Inouye who taught me bravery and courage and David Mas Matsumoto who taught me culture and community. I am most grateful for being witnesses to their life examples which speak loudly of peace!
My father, Eleazar Abarquez, died on April 24, 2000. It was three years after his death when I found out that he lost three family members (his parents and a brother) during World WarII. My fraternal grandparents, both Filipino soldiers, were lured into the woods to look for their missing son. But, it was a trap, as the Japanese Imperial Army killed them. Vigan Church’s pastor refused to bury them, fearful of backlash and retaliation. My grandparents got a decent and dignified Christian burial, only after my father’s persistent advocacy.
Orphaned at a young age, my father moved to Manila. Instead of despairing over the loss of his parents and a brother, he nurtured hope. He walked, barefoot for miles, to get to school and back. Sometimes he had food, other times hunger. His pants were made of recycled rice sacks. He persisted until his dreams of a law degree were interrupted when he met the love of his life, Asuncion, and married her. Theirs was a bond of love, which defied all financial odds. From a two-room place, they later managed to build a two-story home for their children.
He was a labor inspector, tasked with enforcing the labor codes of the Philippines. My mother was a science and math teacher in a public school. But, their dreams were larger than what their careers offered. My mother took the initiative to immigrate first with my eldest sister, Rose, to Los Angeles and the rest of us followed.
My father was left to sell the fruits of their labor: the car, the house, and the lot. Months before martial law was imposed, he got a promotion to become the Southern Regional Administrator, appointed by then-Director of Labor Blas Ople. He was faced with his own dilemma: Should he pursue his new promotion in his career and be away from his family, or be reunited with them and start anew?
Peace is generosity
Choosing new beginnings, he joined his family in America and got a counselor’s job at the Veterans Counseling Center in Los Angeles. He advised Vietnam veterans and as he did his work, he found healing from his losses.
After retiring from his job as a counselor, he became the primary caregiver for his grandchildren born in America: Jennifer, Brian, Michael, Paul, Jason, and Jessica. He would pick them up from school, cook dinners, and supervise their homework.
Even with persistent arthritis, he endured his infirmities to care for them. Jessica wrote a tribute poem for her grandfather about his daily heroic deeds.
It was from him that I learned acceptance of what life hands to you. Instead of negativity, he taught me to transcend challenges by being generous. Year after year, I watched him give away what little he had. And it seemed he never ran out of blessings to share. The biggest beneficiaries were us, his children.
At Christmas, my father would give generously to Catholic nuns who came to our house in the Philippines, to sing Christmas carols. Even if it meant giving away his last cent, he provided for them and their medical needs.
At times, I heard my mom complain about their limited government salaries in the Philippines, and that he should limit giving away our resources. But, my dad believed that God provides, and he remained generous to every Sampaguita vendor or beggar that we would come across when our car was stalled in Manila traffic.
Long after he’s gone, his example still provides me inspiration and guidance. My reward is that precious blessing of peace in one’s heart.
From my father, I learned a code of conduct – contributing to serving others, before oneself.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution for the good of all
Recall the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, 65 percent of whom were American citizens, that was made possible by Executive Order 4066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, after World War II was declared? Yet, with all these injustices the Japanese-Americans faced in internment camps, they were the most decorated battalion that fought in World War II. Daniel Inouye became one of the most decorated World War II heroes and then a U.S. senator. The 442nd combat unit garnered over 18,000 individual decorations for bravery, 9,500 Purple Hearts for casualties, and seven Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations.
While in camp, they lived in barracks, that were 20 x 120 feet, divided into four to six tiny apartments, with sheetrock walls, sometimes covered, sometimes not, with tar paper on the roof. These wood shacks had gaps on the walls and on the floors, allowing heat and blistering cold to come in. They had common bathrooms that they had to walk to, traversing the mud with their wooden sandals. In some parts of the West Coast, they were housed in barns where horses were kept.
In Toyo Miyatake’s exhibit from October to December 2017, his black and white photos of that period showed how the Japanese Americans grew foliage and flowering plants to surround their barracks, making their living conditions bearable.
Another photo showed how they created inside the barracks, a community market of fresh fish, supplied twice a month by a Caucasian friend who sent them from Port of San Pedro. The photo’s caption conveyed the fact that Japanese did not like the taste of the fish supplied in the camp that they made arrangements for other varieties of fish to be delivered.
These interned Japanese -Americans taught their families acceptance and a code of behavior, called shushin, giving their lives in camp a sense of dignity.
They recognized that shushin, which is about perseverance, hard work and respect for authority, can now be their code of behavior to pass on. Instead of bitterness, they passed on giri, a strong sense of duty or obligation to others; on, a profound obligation to family, especially parents, a generational duty to do good to others, to look after generations to come. From this collective decision, they served others before themselves.
Instead of anger, the value of gaman, which means to endure adversity and to persevere, was taught by example. At times, it felt like they were passive, but while in camps, they taught their children watercolor paintings. The art of wood making was passed on. Even games of baseball were played. Dances and songs were taught. They centered on arts, spirituality and cultural values in the camps.
The cultural values of gaman and giri empowered the succeeding generations of Japanese–Americans — it is their way of remembering the sacrifices of their ancestors, not for themselves, but for the next generations. It marked the birth of the Japanese American National Museum that is mostly funded by federal funds, army financial resources, and private donations.
At the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo, I saw desert sand of various colors that are encased in acrylic boxes, with artifacts such as boots, sandals, books, accessories of clothing, etc. With one’ s imagination, one might relive what the Issei (the first generation Japanese – Americans) experienced — harsh conditions that moved Pres. George H.W. Bush to say, ” No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes all the glories and the disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of the Americans of Japanese ancestry was a grave injustice, and it will never be repeated.”
It led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, authored by Senator Inouye, authorizing redress payments to “surviving internees, and which created a public education fund to ensure that similar violations of civil liberties will not be repeated against any other group based on race, religion or national origin.”
Peace comes from facing fear
I met someone who was a dead ringer for my dad. I thought for a brief moment that my father was alive when I was introduced to Senator Daniel Inouye at a UCLA event.
Allow me to share the bravery of Senator Dan Inouye. He was the first successful senator to have accomplished for our Filipino WW II veterans, a provision in H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5), signed by President Barack Obama, which provides 18,000 living Filipino World War II veterans, a one-time payment of $15,000 to American citizens of Filipino descent and $9,000 to Filipino veterans of WW II who are non-citizens – a total of $198 million.
I was listening to an audio recording at the Smithsonian’s exhibit called Price of Freedom in Washington, DC about Senator Dan Inouye’s bravery. It was likewise reported by Robert Asahina in “Just Americans: The Story of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II.”
“And later he found out he had been shot in the stomach, but he kept climbing up the hill. A machine gun nest was firing at him. He threw a grenade, knocked out that machine gun nest, another machine gun nest opened up on him. A German soldier stood up with a grenade launcher, launched a grenade straight at Inouye.”
Inouye was carrying a live grenade in his right hand when the German grenade hit him, nearly severing his right arm. [Inouye] grabbed the live grenade out of his right hand with his left hand, threw it into the machine gun nest, blew up that machine gun nest, fell to the ground, crawled up the ground, then got hit a third time by another rifleman before he was knocked out.
For four days and nights they fought their way through these very dense mountains,” says Asahina, who has visited the site. “The canopy is so dense that when you are in there in the middle of the day, it’s dark. And they were fighting there in the dark, climbing hills with the Germans firing down on them. It was one of the most heroic battles of the French campaign.”
As for the interned Japanese – Americans, David Mas Matsumoto wrote ” We live with ghosts or spirits all around us, they are a sense of history that bonds all of us. Culture is alive and evolving. The facts are not as important as the process of change and acceptance…..For we too are simply ordinary people with a universe passing by us and through us.”
The community has, since that period of internment, worked for decades to achieve redress and reparation, much like how the Filipino Veterans and the community supporting them, struggled for equity.
This October 2017, the highest award of Congressional Gold Medal was given to the Filipino World War II veterans, 75 years after their heroic acts were done, some of whom sacrificed their lives to protect and defend American soldiers.
Both movements were made up of cumulative depths and levels of contributions, including solidarity campaigns from many sectors. This Christmas, can we be at peace? Can we say we have experienced any of these forms of peace: serving others, sacrificing our lives for others, being generous to others?
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.