“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

A reproduction of an archival photo of the author’s late father, Eleazar A. Abarquez

Peace is choosing love and generosity

 My father, Eleazar Abarquez died on April 24, 2000. Three years after his death, I found out from my mother, Asuncion, that he lost three family members (his parents and a brother) during World War 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 as the Japanese Imperial Army killed them. Vigan Church’s pastor refused to bury them, afraid of retaliation. After my father’s persistence and tenacity, my fraternal grandparents finally got the Catholic blessing and were buried.

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 higher education as a way out of poverty. He would walk, barefoot for miles, to get to school and back. Sometimes he had food, other times hunger. He wore pants made from recycled rice sacks.

Senator Daniel Ken Inouye, who represented Hawaii from 1963 until his death in 2012.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Congress

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 both managed to build a home for their children. He became a labor inspector, tasked with enforcing the labor codes of the Philippines. My mother was a science and math teacher at 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 then, the rest of us joined them.

My father was tasked with selling the fruits of their community labor: the car, 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, should he pursue his new promotion in his career and be away from his family or be reunited with family to start anew? Much like choosing love in marrying my mom, he chose family reunification.

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 the primary caregiver to 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 physical pain to care for them. To pay tribute to his nurturing, Jessica wrote a poem about his daily heroic deeds.

From my father, I learned a code of conduct — contributing to the good of all and serving others, before myself.

At Christmas, my father would give generously to Catholic nuns who came to sing Christmas carols. Even if it meant giving away his last cent, he provided for 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 their resources. As my dad believed that God provides,  he remained generous to every sampaguita vendor 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. How – by being generous. Year after year, I watched him give away what little he had. And it seemed he never ran out of resources to share. The biggest beneficiaries became us, his children. Long after he died, his example still inspires and guides me. My reward is a deeper feeling of satisfaction – a blessing of peace in one’s heart.

Peace is patriotism and bravery in war

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. He was kind enough to stop and get our photos taken. I told him how I learned about his bravery when I visited the Price of Freedom Exhibit in Washington, D.C.

I was listening to an audio recording at this Smithsonian’s exhibit about Inouye’s bravery. It was also 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.”

He was the first successful senator to have accomplished for our Filipino WWII veterans, a provision in H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5), signed by President Barack Obama, providing for 18,000 living Filipino WWII veterans, a one-time payment of $15,000 to American citizens of Filipino descent and $9,000 to Filipino veterans of WWII who are non-citizens – a total of $198 million.

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 WWII was declared? 

Yet, with all these injustices that these Japanese-Americans faced in internment camps, they were the most decorated batallion who fought in World War II. Daniel Inouye became one of the most decorated WWII hero. 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 ft, 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 mud with their wooden sandals. In some parts of the West Coast, they were housed in barns where horses were kept.

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 (perseverance, hard work and respect for authority) can now be their code of behavior to pass on. Instead of bitterness, they passed on giri, (strong sense of duty or obligation to others) or a profound obligation to family, especially parents, a generational duty to do good to others, to look after generations to come. From their collective decision, they served others before themselves.

Instead of anger, the value of gaman (to endure adversity and to persevere) was taught by example. At times, it felt like they were passive, but while in the camps, they taught their children watercolor paintings. The art of woodmaking was also passed on. Even games of baseball were played. Dances and songs were taught. They centered on arts, spirituality and cultural values in the camps.

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 and made 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 the fresh fish 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.

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 which 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.”

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 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. 

I am most grateful this Father’s Day, for having them as life examples which spoke loudly of peace!

* * *

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 10 years. She also 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, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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