Voices | COMMUNITY CHEST

Children of Japanese 'war brides' tell tales of racism, hardship and perseverance

Some emails and online comments received in response to Lucy Alexander’s Oct. 6 Lifelines column:

Mom overcame hostility, poverty

I really enjoyed the article in The Japan Times about Japanese “war brides,” especially because I am a product of a mixed union.

My father had to ask my mother to marry him three times before she accepted. Then, after she was married, she had to hide it and didn’t live with my father or tell her family for three months after marriage. When she finally did tell, she was shunned and disgraced. Her family was wealthy and she was in the process of a match-make.

After a time, her mother forgave her but told her never to have children as it would shame the blood line (as we have samurai blood). I was born three years after the union and my sister eight years after me and, ironically, after my mother and I returned from a summer trip to Japan.

When it was time for my father to be discharged, he and my mother rode a ship over the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay. Her first Thanksgiving was on that ship with the sight of the San Francisco Bridge before her. She said it was a beautiful view.

They traveled by train across America to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my father’s family lived. Little did she know that she was about to see a part of America that wasn’t shown in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies she and her brother used to watch before the war.

She often tells me she thought roads of America were paved with gold. She wore beautiful clothes with high heels, gloves and a hat to meet the in-laws.

My father had gone into the army to escape the poverty of mountain life. My grandfather was a carpenter and was in the process of building a new house that would include electricity and plumbing.

Yes, the Elliotts were very simple people. They wore hand-me-downs, grew their own food, and killed and ate their own livestock (which was meager). They went to the bathroom in an outhouse. They took cold showers (no hot water heater) from water gathered in a rain barrel. Their names are simple: Georgianna, Oscar, Adeliene, Raphie, Harriet, etc. Some even dipped snuff.

But no matter their status in life, they thought my mom was a piece of trash. They couldn’t master her name, Fumiko, so after a few years they began to call her Jackie, after Jacqueline Kennedy, because of the way she dressed. The first few years in America, she was mastering the English language and told me she didn’t speak with anyone in the beginning. Then, they never took the time to try to understand her in her broken English. Thankfully, my father climbed off that mountain and took my mother to Florida, where there was construction work he could perform. That is where I was born.

We traveled quite a bit, from construction job to construction job. We lived in a trailer, as it is easier to move your home than pack up and move every couple of months.

When we lived in Illinois, my mother got a job and saved enough money to take me to Japan. This was 1967. Imagine how much that must have cost back then.

I was an oddity when we got there, as I have light brown hair, green eyes and look very Caucasian. We were there three months and by the time I left spoke fluent Japanese. I had met my grandmother and she couldn’t have loved me more.

After our return to America, my sister was born. We moved back to Florida after three months. My father worked at NASA, then he went to central Florida to help build an amusement park. We moved to Kissimmee to be closer to the construction. It ended up being Walt Disney World. On Sept. 11, 1971, my mother was hired by Disney World, a few weeks before it opened.

My father passed on Nov. 30, 1990. He was an alcoholic. Mom always thought it was because of the mixed marriage, and he had many affairs.

My mother never divorced him and she never stopped working. Even after retiring from Disney World, she went back and continues to work three to four days a week.

She has worked there so long that the president of Disney World was one of her interns when he was in college. When he was being introduced to the part of the staff she belonged to, he went right up to her. He was very boisterous and she told him to be quiet as they were there to meet the new president. He had to tell her that he was the president! It was very funny and a prideful moment.

I am very happy to say that at 81, she is strong, healthy and we have no contact with my father’s family. Not because of any strife, just because we’ve always been disjointed. I hope you’ve enjoyed my mom’s story.

DEBBI ELLIOTT GRIFFITH

Protected from the prejudices

Dad was stationed in Japan during the Korean War. He met my mom when she was working in the PX [U.S. military supply store]. They were married in 1951 and moved back to my dad’s hometown, Paso Robles, California. Camp Roberts was still active in those days and located about 10 miles from town.

Mom and Dad never said anything about how difficult it was for her. I had no idea until a relative died a few years ago.

The pastor was at their house because the funeral planning fell to my dad. The pastor was trying to get some stories about the deceased and asked Mom to relate a warm story or a fond memory.

Out of the blue, she blurted out: “I don’t have any. He never liked me.”

I was speechless. I was in my mid-50s and had no idea. Dad went on to say that the relative didn’t like my brothers or me, either. I always thought he was just gruff. Dad said there were lots of tears behind closed doors.

I’m sure there are many more stories, but Dad and Mom are not ones to whine about the injustices done by those like our relatives. To my wonderful parents’ credit, they did everything they could to protect us from the prejudices that, I guess, surrounded us.

That story changed the way I looked at my mom. When I was growing up, I always felt that my mom’s immigrant beginnings caused a lot of friction between her and I. Now I believe that she was trying to protect me from suffering as she did. My respect for my mom grew a hundredfold.

Dad just turned 84 today and Mom’s 84th is in December. I am so lucky to have such resilient, positive, encouraging parents.

Best wishes on your worthy project,

ROGER TOEVS

Paso Robles, California

Reversal of fortunes

Hello, my name is Thomas Mulholland. My mother is Japanese and was a “war bride.” She married my father in Japan when no one was allowed to marry a Japanese at that time.

My father did not believe the army had the right to tell someone whom they could marry. So my father arranged to be married to my mother via a friend of my father, an army chaplain.

When they were allowed to leave Japan, we were stationed in Virginia. White ladies spat on my sisters because they thought they had a foreign disease when they only had chicken pox, which all children get.

My grandparents lived in Alabama. The only time we ever met them they said we looked like Indians and did not recognize us “bastards” as their grandchildren. My grandfather in Japan heard about how we were being treated and he wanted us to go to Japan and be raised as Japanese. But my father made a deal with the army so we remained in America at Yuma Test Station in Arizona.

Ours is a very detailed and great story. I think you should hear what my mother has to say about those times. I believe we had it a lot tougher than most. My mother is a great woman and raised us to be proud of our heritage.

I currently work for Mitsubishi Electric in Huntington Beach, California. I also worked for Denso in Long Beach, California, for 17 years.

Incidentally, while traveling to Japan, I was in the Tokyo train station. My human resources manager, who is American, asked me why I was laughing. I told her that in my life no one liked us — not the Americans and not the Japanese-Americans. There were six of us brothers and sisters. We fought all the time, defending our Japanese culture as my mother would have us do. I told my colleague that now, all the Americans and Japanese think the boys are handsome and the girls are beautiful.

My father always told us we were the “best of two worlds” — the first of our kind on this Earth. As I looked at the Japanese in Japan, I laughed because now they want to look like us hapas [people of mixed heritage] with light hair and eyes.

Times have changed. I am proud that you are telling our story. Let us know if we can help you in any way. Thank you.

THOMAS MULHOLLAND

Huntington Beach, California

A wealth of war bride stories

I live in California and my “war bride” mother lives in Arizona currently, but was in California prior. She has quite a repertoire of stories. I would like for my mom and aunt (living in Washington State) to give me their oral history so that I can write it down.

Their story is one that started when they were removed from Formosa after the Chinese reclaimed it as Taiwan and continues through to their lives now here in the U.S.

My mother still encounters racism, and it confounds and angers me. Thank you for giving them a voice.

LINDA K. FORLENZA

Claremont, California

Stereotypes persist

I remember my grandfather’s sister taking me aside when I showed up with my wife back in the mid-’70s: “I don’t like Orientals. Pretty girl, though.”

I think if it were put to a vote, my family would keep her and dump me. I know several girls who married Americans. Half worked on base, the rest of us met in English classes, but the stereotypes persist.

MARK D

War veterans on both sides

Try this out for size: My mother was a “war bride” who married my Japanese-American father, a sergeant in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service serving in the postwar Occupation of Japan.

Many of my mom’s family fought for Imperial Japan and some of them died fighting the U.S., and she was persona non grata among some of her family members. Think if Chief Sitting Bull’s daughter had married Tonto and you get the picture.

CLARENCE MORIWAKI

For more on the “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides” film project, visit kck.st/1tYs0VE. Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp