For years now, whenever non-Asian people have attempted to bond by announcing to me that their spouses are some flavor of Asian, I've made a mental W sign and probably rolled my eyes. Usually they're implying that they're cultural insiders because of these spouses, a notion I've found to be just so much baloney.
But I probably can't afford to be quite so dismissive going forward because, I dunno, am I doing something similar?
Last year I married an awesome Japanese American guy. His family -- three generations removed from Asian immigrant neuroses -- is also awesome. That I'm psyched to have an alternate model of love and family, I get. What surprised me and kinda weirds me out is that I'm also psyched about now having a personal connection to, oh, Japanese American internment camps.
We visited Penryn over the weekend, to see his aunt and uncle. Penryn is a town an hour west of Sacramento, population 5233, according to the road sign. To reach his aunt and uncle's place, you turn right at a mailbox and drive down a dirt road, around some tractors.
Visiting them was my idea. And what I knew about my reasons for going was that they're sweet people and we should pay our respects. What I discovered when I got there was my delight at having my husband's uncle tell us how their family moved onto the property in 1928. How they'd farmed oranges and persimmons there, and the Japanese American farming families would help each other bring the harvests in. How, as a Japanese immigrant, his father was not legally eligible to own property, but eventually purchased the land in the name of his American-born children. How, after their release from the internment camps, those families that owned land came back, but many others didn't.
Mind you, I know this history. I've taught it, to thousands of undergrads. But it was never mine, before. Well, it's still not my parents' history, nor my sister's, but is it mine? If my husband and I have children, this history would most certainly be theirs.
And here's the thing: When I was little, I longed for an attic. Not the kind with insulation and rafters, but the kind with trunks, full of great-grandma's combs and letters from grandpa. And it felt like an immutable misfortune, that all my refugee family had brought to the US was what we'd been allowed to carry. When our stay at Camp Pendleton ended in 1975, our sponsors gave us two suitcases; all my parents had to stash in them were rolls of toilet paper, excess saved from the rations during our weeks at the camp.
So here I was in Penryn, looking at fruit trees and rusty pickup trucks and not one but three tractors -- feeling like I was finally discovering American roots.
It was everything a little refugee could ask for.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!