Today I am very honored to be able to have the author of How to Be an American Housewife, Margaret Dilloway stop by to do a blog post for me. How to Be an American Housewife was just released in paperback.
The topic of the guest post is: The entertaining experiences of being a half-Japanese, half-American young girl in the 60’s and 70’s.
Thanks again Margaret for taking the time out do to this for me. Without further hesitation take it away Margaret.
When I was little, I never really thought of myself as Asian, even though my mother was Japanese. I didn’t look particularly Asian. I didn’t speak Japanese; my mother thought it would confuse us too much, though I did beg her to teach me. We didn’t really know many other Asians, and the ones we did, we didn’t socialize with.
Nonetheless, there were some traditions my mother followed that were different than any other local household I’d been in. Everyone took off their shoes at the door. If anyone asked why, I’d just say, “It’s a Japanese tradition, and my mother’s Japanese,” and they’d do it. Our house didn’t have tatami mats or tables close to the floor, so there was no worry there.
The shoes-off tradition got more amusing when my brother turned into a teen. Teenage boys (surprise!) are kind of stinky. So to have six pairs of athletic shoes lying by the door was not particularly pleasant. Our cat loved it, though. The cat would wait by the door for the boys to take off their shoes and then stick her head in them, rubbing and rolling, until she’d had her fill. I remember this mainly because my mother got so much entertainment out of it; it was rare to hear her laugh, but this did it every time.
Mom also had some ideas different from the locals. Once I borrowed an egg from a neighbor for my mother to complete a recipe. In the U.S., when you“borrow” an ingredient, you usually don’t mean you’re going to return it; it’s just a neighborly thing to do, and one day the neighbor might request the same kind of help from you. But my mother didn’t subscribe to this point of view.
The next day, after we bought more eggs, my mother sent me over to the neighbor’s house with two eggs. “Tell her it’s how Japanese do it,” she instructed. She did not want to be beholden to anyone, for anything. The neighbor tried to wave me off, saying it was fine, she didn’t need the egg back, but I had to insist that she take both.
Also, nobody else celebrated New Year’s the way Americans celebrated Christmas. My mother would spend all of New Year’s Eve making special foods,sushi and sometimes sashimi. I would brag about the ability to eat raw fish to all my friends, who would be (I presumed) struck with envy. She would set up a table with lacquered boxes filled with Japanese treats, like pickled cabbageand root vegetables. There were always tangerines from our tree, and flowers,too. Sometimes, on New Year’s Day, my dad would take us to the big sales to get us clothes and call it our New Year’s gifts. However, I would not be allowed to go out. My mother said it was because New Year’s was an important Japanese holiday, like Christmas, to be spent with family; she was really just worried about the crazies on the roads.
Some things in the book didn’t really happen to me, but were sparked by others. There’s a part in the book where another mother can’t understand Shoko’s accent, and there’s a big mix-up over popcorn balls. As a kid, I was never aware of anyone not understanding my mother. But my husband’s mother, who never met mine, told me a story about a Japanese mom she knew when her kids were little. It was difficult to have a conversation with this lady, she said,and she expressed how badly she felt that she hadn’t tried harder to include her. I included a similar scenario in the novel, for Shoko.
There’s also a part about Sue trying to win in the science fair with Shoko’s help. Something similar did happen to me, without my parent’s help, as I attempted a science fair project. This was more about class and income difference than about cultural difference, as my parents simply did not help us out with projects and did not understand what had to go into them. I thought something similar might have happened with my characters.
Thanks again Margaret for taking the time out to do this.
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