A statue unveiled Tuesday in Glendale honors the thousands of Korean women who historians say were forced to be sex sales for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
It's the first such statue on the West Coast. There are two in New Jersey, and supporters hope to erect more nationwide.
“These women are so inspirational. As a woman myself, I feel like these women trauma and their history is so important to continue and carry on so issues like this don't carry on in the future,” resident Dahnbi Lee-Hong, 19, said.
Lee-Hong’s 16-year-old sister, Nuri, said she has empathy for the women and girls – so-called “comfort women” – memorialized by the statue.
“Since I’m, like, the age they were when they were taken as comfort women, it’s just, like, brings into perspective what they went through,” she said. “If i had like done that, it would have definitely been something that scarred me.”
The unveiling ceremony kicked off at 12:30 p.m. Among the speakers was Bok-Dong Kim, who was abducted and kept as a "comfort woman" when she was young.
"My only hope is that before we die -- we don't have much time left, but before we die, Japan comes forward and offers official apology and reparation," she said.
Conflict, emotions and differing interpretations of history have surrounded the statue's coming to Glendale.
Japanese activities protested a Glendale City Council meeting at which the statue was approved earlier this month. Demonstrators said the women were willing prostitutes, not sex slaves.
A last-minute protest to stop the unveiling involved thousands of emails sent to City Hall, the Glendale News Press reported.
A city official said the statue is not meant just to recognize the past.
“With this, we hope to bring light to the human trafficking that’s still going on in the world,” said Chang Lee, Glendale planning commissioner.
Representatives from Japanese American organizations are expected to attend Tuesday’s unveiling. The statue is a replica of one that sits in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, pictured below surrounded by South Korean Vietnam War veterans during a rally at the embassy in May.