2:29 PM

Finding Peace!

Posted by Prosy Delacruz

“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

My father, Eleazar Abarquez died on April 24, 2000.

But it was only three years later after his death, when I found out that he lost three family members (his parents and a brother) during WW II.

My fraternal grandparents, who were both Filipino soldiers, were lured into the woods to look for their missing son. Apparently, it was a trap and they were killed by the Japanese Imperial Army. The pastor of Vigan Church refused to bury them, fearing retaliation. It was my father’s vigorous advocacy and perseverance which enabled him to provide his parents a decent and dignified Christian burial.

Orphaned at a young age, my father moved to Manila. Instead of despairing over the loss of his parents, he nurtured hope and resorted to education as his way out of poverty.

He would walk, barefoot for miles, to get to school and back. Sometimes he had food, other times he had to endure hunger. He persisted, until his law degree was interrupted by an early marriage, when he met the love of his life, Asuncion. Theirs became a bond of love, which defied all sorts of financial odds, and they both managed to build a home for five girls: Rose, Prosy, Sion, Rachel and Nimfa. He became 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, so my mother took the initiative to immigrate first with my eldest sister, Rose to Los Angeles, and then, the rest of the us joined them.

My father was tasked with selling our wares --the car, the house and 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, to pursue his career and be away from his family or to be reunited with them and start anew.

Peace is generosity

Choosing new beginnings, he got a job as a counselor at the Veterans Counseling Center in Los Angeles. He counseled Vietnam veterans and as he did his work, he found healing from his loss. After retiring from his job as a counselor, he became a primary caregiver to his grandchildren born in America -- Jennifer, Brian, Michael, Paul, Jason, and Jessica. He would pick them up from school, cook their dinners and supervise their homework. Even with persistent arthritis, he endured physical pain to care for them. Because of his efforts, Jessica wrote a tribute poem for him about his daily heroic deeds.

From my father, I learned a code of conduct -- contributing for the good of all and serving others before myself. 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 also for the medical needs of relatives. At times, I heard my mom complain about their limited government salaries in the Philippines, and that he should limit the 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.

It was from my father, Eleazar that I learned acceptance of what life hands to you. Instead of negativity, he taught me to transcend challenges by being generous. My reward is that precious blessing of peace in one’s heart. Year after year, I watched him give away what little he had. And it seemed that he never ran out of blessings to share. The biggest beneficiaries, of course, were his children. He would provide for me at all times and 'til now, long after he's gone, he still continues to do so.

Peace is not the product of terror or 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 briefly, 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 WW 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 where 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."

Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution for the good of all

Recall the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, 65% of whom were American citizens, that was made possible by Executive Order 4066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, after WW II was declared? While in camp, they lived in barracks, that were 20 x 120 ft, divided into 4-6 tiny apartments, with sheet rock 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.

Yet, 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 woodmaking 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.

Later, these cultural values of gaman and giri empowered the succeeding generations of Japanese – Americans -- it is their way of remembering the sacrifices of their ancestors, and pursuing their fair share and seats at the decision-making table -- not for themselves, but for the next generations. Hence, 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."

Yet, with all these injustices the Japanese-Americans faced in internment camps, they were the most decorated batallion that fought in World War II. Daniel Inouye became one of the most decorated WW II hero, now a US 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.

The community has, since that period of internment, worked for decades to achieve redress and reparation, just like how the Filipino Veterans struggled for equity. It was a movement made up of cumulative depths and levels of contributions, including solidarity campaigns from many sectors. 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.”

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."

I was fortunate to have met all these men, my father who raised me and taught me the value of generosity; Senator Daniel Inouye who taught me the value of bravery and courage and David Mas Matsumoto who taught me the value of culture and community. In them, I am grateful most--grateful for being life examples which speak loudly of peace!


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