Many of the small scenes of HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE are pulled straight out of my mother’s life. These are stories she used to tell me when I was a child, stories that I hated hearing, actually, because they referenced hardship and a mother who was not mine at all, but some other person from another time and place. That my mother grew up in a house with dirt floors, had no food, and had bombs dropped on her scared me.
Like Shoko, Mom was a “war bride,” those Japanese women that married servicemen from other countries in the occupation years after WWII, when their country was in shambles and they wanted to find a better life.
Mom finished high school (straight As, thank you very much) and left her hometown to go work for the Americans. Her own family was poor, and everyone wanted her brother, the only boy in the family in her family of five siblings, to succeed. She sent money home to put her brother through school.
Around age 26, Mom at last (because that’s pretty old for a Japanese woman, especially back then) it was time to get married. She and her father had already discussed the possibility of her marrying an American. Her father told her that Japan was going to become like America anyway, so she might as well do it.
She’d been dating some servicemen. I don’t know how many, or how serious she got with any of them; but her stories made it seem like she was fighting them off in droves! She photographed each one and took those photos home to her father, so he could see what her choices were.
Luckily for my existence, my grandfather chose my dad, citing his “honest eyes.” They married in 1958.
Mom also told me about what it was like to assimilate into American culture—because she did want to assimilate, badly. The strange food, the language, and the traditions were all foreign to her. She told me of how people treated her and my oldest sibling, born in 1960, back when being married to a person of “Mongoloid” descent was still illegal in many states.
With her stories surging up in my mind, I began writing the novel. I did choose to write it as fiction, so I could make up the plot, but I did include the incidents that she told me about.
A guide book Mom had, THE AMERICAN WAY OF HOUSEKEEPING, written in Japanese and English, served as the inspiration for the structure. I wrote fictional chapter headings, so each one matches the theme in the upcoming related chapter of the novel.
Thanks so much for joining us today Margaret!
Check out my review of How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway later today!
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