Nationizing Coalition and Solidarity Politics for US Antimilitarist Feminists.

AuthorOkazawa-Rey, Margo

THIS ESSAY ARGUES FOR INCLUDING NATION AS AN ESSENTIAL ANALYTICAL category alongside race, class, and gender, in order to understand more fully the inextricable links across and within nations, and how we, as US-based feminist scholar/activists working to end militarism and generate genuine security for all people and the planet, can be in solidarity with our comrades outside the United States. My observations derive from 25 years of experience working with feminist activists and academics from and in countries outside the United States. In a way, I am looking at home from far away.

Socialized as a child in Japan, I first glimpsed another culture after arriving in the United States as a 10 year old. I explained the new, unfamiliar, and strange experiences, people, and language to myself as America. Experientially, I understood country and cultural differences, but nation as an analytic category did not occur to me until almost 35 years after my first encounter with the United States. The ideas in this essay pertain both to white women and to us women of color, who consistently fail to interrogate nation when analyzing social phenomena and interacting with those from outside the United States. We women of color are not off the hook. We are inextricably linked to the US state, whatever our locations within this country, albeit in complicated ways. An intersectional analysis is useful in identifying and understanding this complexity. Within the domestic context, many of us experience the punitive and oppressive aspects of nation based on race, class, gender, or sexuality, for example. However, this essay focuses on the part of the analysis we often forget: our dominance related to the US state in the context of transnational feminist coalition and solidarity politics.

I begin my story in the Republic of Korea in 1994. I was a Fulbright research scholar trying to discover and understand Korean people's perceptions of and experiences with African Americans before they migrated to the States. At the time, the tensions that had existed since the mid-1980s between immigrant Korean merchants and members of African American communities in US cities had escalated into outright violence. Two notable examples were the Red Apple incident, when African American community leaders boycotted the Korean-owned Red Apple grocery store in New York City and other similar stores in most NYC boroughs, and the killing of Latasha Harlins, an African American woman, in Los Angeles by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-born convenience store owner (Okazawa-Rey & Wong 1997, Park 1996). So, with research question and methodology in hand, I was ready to pursue my investigation as an African American woman wanting to understand an aspect of my people's oppression.

Arriving in Seoul, I was shocked by two realizations. First, although I did not speak Korean, I was able to communicate in day-to-day interactions with older Korean people in Japanese, my first language. They had been forced to learn Japanese as part of the Japanese colonization of Korea (1910-1945) and were still able to communicate in that language. Also, I learned about the presence of US military bases and installations, which numbered over 100 at the time. Yongsan Army Garrison occupies a central section of the capital city of Seoul. I tried to imagine a foreign military base in downtown Washington, DC.

Later, I learned that because I had a US passport, I could go to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to look around, whereas Korean people could not. Obviously, I could not cross the DMZ, a sealed border, but I could join USO-sponsored tours for US citizens. Throughout my time in South Korea, incidents like these--encountering remnants of the 35-year Japanese occupation and evidence of the US military post-World War II presence--made me reflect on what it meant to be connected to Japanese imperialism through my mother's lineage and my birth in Japan and also to be tied directly to US imperialism and occupation of South Korea through US citizenship and my father's ancestry. Also, I came to realize the continuities of occupation: Yongsan Army Garrison, the headquarters of the US Armed Forces in Korea, had been the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Army until 1945, when Japan was defeated and forced to withdraw from Korea. Until these experiences, I had an understanding of race; I understood class; I understood gender. However, I had no awareness of the category of nation and its salience in understanding historical and contemporary social and political phenomena.

Even after I became aware of race, gender, and class, nation was not part of my thinking until I was confronted with it in South Korea. Anyone who studies structural inequalities and related sociopolitical categories knows that those in dominant positions rarely see the categories that give us dominance--whether based on gender, race, class, or other forms of inequality. The internalized dominant categories (and related realities we experience) are just the water we swim in, the air we breathe: normalized and made invisible. We are not aware of and rarely have to think about our relationship to dominance.

In this essay, I discuss what it means for US feminists to live and work in the belly of the beast, which is based on militarism, genocide, slavery, racism, and misogyny. This is particularly...

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