Monday, May 26, 2008

Perfect Peace

Although I consider myself an armchair anti-war activist, I have to admit that growing up on military bases was one of the best things that happened to me and my sister. Ironically, we spent our teen years as peaceniks protesting the Vietnam War and the "military industrial complex". But looking back now, I see that had it not been for the U.S. Army I wouldn't have been born me. The only reason my father was in Japan was because of war. Had he not met and married my mother, I might've ended up with a Japanese otosan. What a strange concept to consider!

But back to childhood. Even though we were unaware of it at the time, those military bases were havens of perfect peace for us kids of mixed marriages. Shortly after WWII, American military men took warbrides from Europe, Asia and Australia. Many GI's ended up with German and Japanese wives. During our years at Ft. Lewis, I remember having lots of friends with Japanese or German mothers. Their fathers were sometimes white, sometimes black.

In any case, I never heard a single racist comment during that period. Instead, I learned snippets of various languages and cultural traditions from all of my classmates. My best friend, Sondra, whose family was Puerto Rican once invited me to her Catholic Church. Although I consider myself agnostic, it was richly rewarding to be exposed to someone else's religion. My sister's best friend, Tessie, was Filipina and I remember that meals served in her home were markedly different from what Sondra's family dined on. The mother of the Mexican family next door taught my mother to make a popular noodle dish. In fact, there was so much ethnic diversity in our neighborhood that it was like living at the United Nations. Only no one seemed to notice that everyone was different because being different was normal.

Several years later, when my father moved us to an all-white, middle-class neighborhood in nearby Tacoma, our neighbors there rolled up the welcome mat and tossed it out. Today, I realize that the only reason no one burned crosses in our yard was because they thought they had too much class although they probably thought about doing it. A fireman who lived across the street called my sister and me the "n-word" one day as we walked past his house. Huh? How'd you like to have him come put out the fire at your house? Let's see, "Ya'll are nothin' but a buncha "n-words" so I'ma jest let yo home burn down." Most of the kids in our 'hood just told us point blank that they weren't "allowed" to play in our yard like we had a disease or something. Only one girl, whose parents both worked in factories, ever actually came inside our house. I guess, in the eyes of the rest of the neighbors, her having laborer folks put her in the same class with us coloreds.

When I was in high school, my two best friends were also the offspring of warbrides. Silvia's mother was Austrian while Helen's mother was French. I was also friends with two girls who both had German mothers although one had a black father, and the other a white. I don't think any of us were particularly conscious of it then, but one of the reasons, I figure, that drew us together was our having mothers with accents. Having a foreign-born mother is what separated us from other classmates more so, I believe, than being mixed-race, or even black. I mean, it was a pretty big deal to attend some mother-daughter school function and present your mom to "real Americans" who would gawk at her before rudely demanding of you, "What did she say? I can't understand her." Of course, there was probably some remaining hostility towards Germans and Japanese who had been America's enemies during the war. Still, common sense would dictate that warbrides had been screened and approved for immigration by the U.S. How harmful could they've been? Was my mother toting a machine gun during the war? Was she the one who ordered the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Between dodging bombs dropped by Americans and running to bomb shelters, she barely survived on the few rations doled out by her government.

While we've come a long way since the days of outright animosity towards foreigners, we still have a ways to go. That's evident by some of the events that took place post-9/11. A friend of mine who is half black and half white, but looks of Arab descent, caught hell the first year following 9/11. When he once visited me in Los Angeles, he was stopped from taking photos of the LaBrea Tar Pits! No kidding.

These days, I'm grateful for my military upbringing although I remain vehemently anti-war. Still, I believe the only answer to peace is education. Until people learn the truth by studying accurately recorded history, we are doomed as a species to continue battling one another based on some physical trait.

Your Hip Hapa,

1 comment:

Diary of a Mad Army Wife said...

I've often wondered if my biracial children were having a different life experience as military children. We've seen a variety of faces and it is never a big deal. Ok, maybe I am not being honest. I get excited when I get the chance to talk to people from different places. We knew this one couple that consisted of an American soldier who had immigrated from Peru and a German woman he had married while stationed over there. Dinners at their house were interesting and yummy. And their daughters were beautiful.