Saturday, February 23, 2008

War Brides Revisited

About that phrase, "war bride"--well; it is redundant, isn't it? I mean, how does one marry a war? It's a lot like that word housewife. Are you the wife of your house? When did the two of you take your vows?

In fact, "war bride" was often derogatorily spat out towards obviously foreign women married to American GI's following WWII. And, sometimes it was used by people who were merely ignorant--like the Caucasian shopkeeper in Texas who greeted my mother with, "Are you a Jap?" He was simply using language acceptable at the time and printed in mainstream newspapers everywhere. Further, he'd never even seen an Asian before. Not that it excuses his idiocy, but my Moms is cool. She tells us that she just laughed at him like she always does when people act stupidly towards her.

There's a lot to acknowledge the brides of war for--like their courage in marrying and mating with men once considered to be an enemy of their country. Not to mention the symbolism of their union looking as if the winner is collecting his spoils. And, for those women who married American military men, moving to a strange land and leaving behind their families has to be tops on the list of brave things to do.

For my mother, coming to Richmond Texas in the 1950's was a shift in consciousness. Evidently, she'd heard the rumors about the streets of America being paved in gold, and may have even wanted to believe it after living through the devastation of her country. So, not surprisingly, she was ill-prepared for the segregated all-black housing where we ended up--she and I, before my sister was born. My father, still an active soldier then, was stationed 200 miles away and made a trip home only once every two weeks. With a limited ability to speak and understand English (especially the Southern variety), Moms somehow managed to keep my sister and me clean, well-fed, safe and entertained in that small Texas town. That clever girl even had friends sending her Japanese food--from New Jersey!

Even today, Moms still tells the tales of how she once fended off a snake that crawled over her feet after my sister, then a baby, awakened screaming one night. And, there's the story of how my paternal grandmother attempted to teach her how to wring a chicken's neck. Finding it a repugnant chore, Moms nervously attempted to cover the chicken's head in newspaper--like a blindfold--as if preventing the poor creature from seeing its executioner. But no matter how much Moms twisted, turned and swung that poor chicken around by the neck, it still walked when it landed--its head securely fastened. So, my mother changed her tactics and stepped on the chicken's head instead. By the time, she got the head removed, the muscles had become so stiff with fear that the chicken made a tough fryer. Moms laughs when she tells us how my dad tried to take a bite of drumstick, but had to settle for gnawing at it. (Personally, as a vegan, this story is hard for me to hear. Sob!)

Just like that unfortunate chicken's flesh, those were some tough times in my mother's life. She recalls being with my father's relatives one day when they were all catching a bus. As our kin climbed aboard single file, the Caucasian driver stopped my mother and waved towards our black relatives already in their seats at the rear. Smiling conspiratorially, he told Moms, "Oh, you don't have to go to the back with them." I guess he reckoned that with Mom's skin only a shade darker than his, she was qualified to ride up front with the likes of his hillbilly self.

Oh, there's more--the tarantulas covering the screen door every morning, the red bugs that ate us up so badly we looked like ashy ghosts in calamine lotion suits, and the rednecks that we didn't dare speak to first nor look directly in the eye. Backwoods Texas was the hell my mother thought she'd descended to on her very first trip to the U.S. as the bride of a war.

There's her photo, above, taken while she was pregnant with my sister.

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. Don't forget to go here for some hip hapa Hapawood stars:

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