Event Date
Mar 03, 2017

Kristen Sun, Amanda Su, Desiree Valadares

The Center for Race & Gender Thursday Forum Series

March 9, 2017

STATES OF APOLOGY: The Culture of Commemoration

Sexual Slavery and the Memorialization of Comfort Women
Amandu Su, English

On December 28, 2015, more than seventy years after the end of World War II, Japan and South Korea reached a landmark agreement to resolve their dispute over Korean women who were forced to provide sexual services for soldiers in Japan’s Imperial Army. Though the Japanese government neglected to accept legal responsibility for the atrocities and offer formal reparations, it nonetheless made an informal apology and promised an $8.3 million payment that would provide care for the 46 surviving women. One of the conditions of the December 2015 agreement was that a statue of a young girl depicting a Korean comfort woman, which has been standing in front of the Japanese embassy since 2011, would be relocated. My paper is an investigation of the comfort women memorials that have been increasingly erected across South Korea and the U.S. since 2010, many of which are replicas of the statue that stands in front of the Japanese embassy. I explore the centrality of the term “sexual slavery” to the comfort women discourse, probing the political and rhetorical implications of linking an atrocity committed by a now nonexistent imperial entity, the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan, to the present day discourse of sex trafficking and “modern slavery,” in a critique of the ways in which the political strategies of feminists and cosmopolitan human rights discourses are intervening or reconfiguring those of the postcolonial state.

Politics of Reconciliation in South Korean War and Peace Memorial Museums
Kristen Sun, Ethnic Studies

This paper traces circulations of transnational war discourses referring to freedom, sacrifice, and gratitude between the U.S. and South Korea in South Korean national war memorials and museum complexes. Specifically, the phrases “Freedom is not free” and “We honor our sons and daughters who answered a call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met,” from the U.S. Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., are affective sentiments that are repeated verbatim or referenced to in national war memorial sites in South Korea ranging from the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul to the UN Forces First Battle Memorial in Osan to the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan. This paper argues that war memorial museums in South Korea attempt to reconcile memory of the Korean War through the repetition of these key memorial phrases, emphasizing the necessity of gratitude for and debt to military sacrifice for attaining the “gift of freedom.” However, what happens when affective discourses of gratitude and freedom rub up against memoryscapes of wartime civilian massacre? To this extent, I also examine the Nogunri and Jeju 4.3 Peace Parks and how discourses of truth and reconciliation in these peace memorial complexes fail to cohere with war memorial phrases such as “freedom is not free.” This failure of memorialization projects as reconciliatory projects — between history and memory, truth and justice, and war and peace — points to the contradictions of an unending Korean War in the “post-cold war.”

The Pilgrimage: Interethnic Coalitions and Cross-Race Solidarity at Former Sites of Japanese American Confinement
Desirée Valadares, Architecture

As political fervor vilifies immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, it is important to consider the politics and stakes of federally imposed institutional confinement as a misdirected means of dealing with national security, racism and economic exploitation. The incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, between 1942 and 1945, in a network of assembly centers, relocation centers and prison camps scattered across Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming is now recognized as a dark chapter in American history. This paper offers a close study of these carceral spaces to provide a compelling material perspective that illuminates questions of citizenship, civil rights, state power, the limits of American justice and the ways in which moral anxieties and civic ambiguities surface in times of war.  More recently, the return to these sites of forced exile, via annual ‘camp pilgrimages,’ seek to reenact, to remember, heal and rebuild the social bonds challenged by the camp experience. These pilgrimages, which began as early as 1969, cultivate a union with many people who possess little to no connection with the land itself. Born out of collective solidarity with other ethnic groups during the 1960s civil rights movement, pilgrimages to former Japanese American confinement camps demonstrate the ways in which unlikely alliances and coalitions are forged between disparate communities with analogous experiences of dispossession, oppression and displacement. In an attempt to answer how unrelated American ethnic groups, suffering similar persecution unite in solidarity, this community engaged research involves both, archival research and active participation in six pilgrimages: the 47 th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage (2016, California), the 40 th Annual Amache Pilgrimage (2016, Colorado), the 3rd Annual Angel Island Pilgrimage (2016, California), a Blessing Ceremony at Honouliuli (2017, Hawaii), the 6th Annual Heart Mountain Pilgrimage (2017, Wyoming) and the 14 th Annual Minidoka Pilgrimage (2017, Idaho).


Amanda Su is a second year Ph.D student in English at UC Berkeley. Her fields of interest include queer studies, feminist and postcolonial theory, and contemporary Anglophone and Sinophone literature.

Kristen Sun is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. She received a MA degree in Comparative Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and a BA in American Studies with minors in Asian American Studies and Film and Media Studies from Northwestern University. Her dissertation focuses on contemporary memorializations of the Korean War in South Korean and U.S. cinema, museums, and memorials. Her research and teaching interests encompass race, gender, war, trauma, memory, U.S. empire in Asia, Cold War cultures and legacies, and transnational Asian American Studies. During her time at Northwestern, Kristen was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. From 2014-2015, Kristen was a Fulbright Junior Researcher in South Korea.

Desirée Valadares is a landscape architect and a 2nd year PhD Architectural History student at UC Berkeley.  Her research examines how governments utilize the built environment to stage official apologies. More specifically, she focuses on the treatment of former sites of forced institutional confinement in Canada and the United States, namely those addressed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2008-2015) involving Indian Residential School sites and the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (1990-1982) concerning Japanese American confinement sites during World War II.