On Saturday, February 25 the Okinawa American Association of New York (OAANY) hosted seven women from Okinawa for a special evening. The women, who are members of the organization Okinawa Women Against Military Violence, spent one day in New York City on their return trip to Okinawa after attending the International Women’s Network Against Militarism in Puerto Rico.
In the wake of the 1995 rape of a twelve-year-old girl by three US servicemen based on Okinawa, Okinawa Women Against Military Violence was formed to discuss and combat the problems associated with the US military presence on this small chain of islands in the southernmost part of Japan. The delegation of seven women, led by co-chair Suzuyo Takazato, spent one week in Puerto Rico with women from seven other countries, developing strategies to reduce the impact of militarism and military exploitation. The women are looking for a peaceful way to resolve the differences Okinawa has with the US military, which could lead to less spending on military expenses and more on education and other pressing issues.
Although the group was formed under politically charged conditions and the conference addressed military issues in the Asia-Pacific, the OAANY gathering did not serve as a forum for political discussion. However, each member of the Okinawan contingent took to the stage at JaNet Hall to introduce herself and to describe her experience.
Takazato compared Puerto Rico to Okinawa, saying they share natural beauty, beaches, foliage, and weather. Digging deeper, Takazato drew parallels between the two tiny islands’ history of military occupation. Locals in Puerto Rico were able to stop the US Navy’s weapons testing on Vieques; the debates about the relocation of the US military in Okinawa continue today. While six of the women made the long journey to Okinawa the next day, Takazato remained in New York to participate in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Members of OAANY, led by their president, Teiko Tursi, treated the delegation to a potluck dinner as well as dance, sanshin, and karate performances.
Emi Miyagi, who is a member of Okinawa Women Against Military Violence and works at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, summed up the evening of fellowship by paraphrasing a 1980s activist motto: “The world is a series of small, separate islands, but the ocean is like the mother, connecting and nurturing them.”
The ocean connected Okinawa and New York that day.