Remembering the Women Who Sacrificed Their Bodies (Not Their Lives)

Freedom comes at a cost. Blood. Sweat. Tears.

Yes, soldiers have died for the freedoms I enjoy as the result of my citizenship today. But today I want to acknowledge the unsung women who gave their bodies wherever “our boys” have gone. The women who served as “sex toys” and “entertainment.” Their government and poverty may have forced them into the trade, but the flow of cash and presence of US troops created a steady demand in many cities that has escalated today. Take Pattaya, Thailand, for example. According to Not Abandoned founder Jeff McKinley

“Only fifty years ago it was a quaint fishing village and relatively unknown. In 1959, US military soldiers on R & R in Thailand made their way to Pattaya and with them ushered in the beginning of the sex industry that Pattaya is known for today.” (Why Pattaya, Thailand video)

Today 200,000 of the city’s 500,000 inhabitants work in the sex industry, serving mostly foreigners who patronize its 22,000 bars.

Pattaya is just one of many outposts where human trafficking has exploded as a result of US troops’ presence. In a short, ethnographic  documentary I watched this weekend, the narrator described the history of why Asian women are fetishsized and exotified by many American men:

This narrative of the exotic submissive Asian woman got further reinforced over the course of the twentieth century during America’s wars in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. After World War Two, approximately 200,000 Japanese were enslaved by the Japanese government as prostitutes for American soldiers as part of the Recreation and Amusement Association. This practice of organized prostitution continued through the Korean and Vietnam wars with 85 percent of American soldiers reporting having saw a prostitute. (from MTV’s Facebook post Why are Asian women “SEXY” but NOT Asian men?)

This is NOT a piece of history I learned from the conservative Christian curriculum that comprised my elementary through high school education. Though I doubt it’s in most secular education either. We like to cover up dirty details of the past like that. Admittedly, members of my own family have been part of this demand. But if our discourse on sacrifice and freedom were honest, we would highlight this cost of freedom too.

ZUMBA for Community Development

How does a small town respond when gang members from “the world’s most violent city” less than an hour away begin to stream into their bars and streets? For residents of Cofradia, Honduras, they gather in the town square and DANCE!

Located about a half hour west of San Pedro Sula, Cofradia is a tiny town with a population of about 18,000. On weekends especially, the town has become a host for gang members to grab a cerveza or sing karaoke. Sometimes the night ends in a fight, sometimes a death.

To counter ­­violence, city officials decided to host ZUMBA fitness in the town square on weekend evenings—Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

I got to participate in one of these community-wide events when visiting a friend who currently resides about a block away from the town square. The dance exercise begins at 7:00 PM, about an hour after the sun sets all year-round since Honduras is so close to the equator. Several hundred people gathered to participate as well as watch the ZUMBA activity. We laughed and danced, following the moves of the instructor on stage. It felt like a dance party, exercise class and neighborhood block party all in one. When I crossed the street to collect my phone to record a video, I noticed a couple police patrolling the area.  Although law enforcement was present, safety on the streets is ensured more by a group of people coming together for some fun exercise than additional guns and weapons.

“This is fitness for community development at its finest,” I thought.

Just a few more blocks down the street I found a CrossFit gym that also offers ZUMBA. As someone who works for a fitness center dedicated to community development, I was thrilled to see that residents in Cofradia have opportunities for fitness that are creating healthier inhabits and habitation.