If you’re looking for a fresh take on the star-crossed lovers theme, consider the indie film Running for Grace (also known as Jo, the Medicine Runner). Set in 1920s Hawaii in segregated Kona coffee fields, in a world where Japanese immigrants toil for white plantation owners, love blooms one afternoon when the mixed-race (Japanese and white) orphan boy named Jo, a medicine runner in the fields, gazes upon Grace, the young daughter of the plantation owner, through gossamer curtains. But, in that era, he’s not what her privileged (and racist) white family hoped for – and eventually the revelation of their taboo romance sparks plenty of drama, including some thrilling scenes of Jo dashing through forests and fields over his affection for Grace.
Ryan Potter, who many of you may recognize from the Oscar-winning animated film Big Hero 6 as well as the Nickeleon TV series Supah Ninjas, stars as Jo, while Olivia Ritchie plays Grace. While the plot of Running for Grace follows a relatively predictable path, the two make for a winsome couple, one that will keep you rooting for them as they go the distance to stay together.
Years ago, a fellow blogger with a Chinese husband wrote to me, “I follow some blogs by Western women married to Japanese men. You’d probably like them too.” It was the kind of friendly recommendation that you often get from other bloggers – except it came with a warning. “But shhh, don’t tell our husbands!”
Why did a suggestion to read someone’s blog suddenly get slapped with a cautionary note, as if all blogs written by Western women with Japanese husbands might be hazardous to our health? Simple. Like most Chinese men, her husband didn’t care for Japan – and neither did mine:
Yes, my marriage to a Chinese man has taught me a valuable lesson — that Asia is not the great, united, happy family (as some Americans might believe). That “Asians” don’t necessarily like being lumped together.
I didn’t realize the extent to our cultural amnesia about the true state of affairs in Asia until I met and married a man from China. A self-proclaimed “military fan” whose interest went deeper than tanks, submarines and aircraft carriers. A husband who schooled me in the many disagreements, wars and massacres between China and its Asian neighbors.
I’ve learned that Japan has yet to fully acknowledge the “Asian holocaust” it perpetrated against China and others, from the gruesome horrors of Unit 731 to the “comfort women” forced into prostitution. I’ve learned of the skirmish between Vietnam and China that led to a short war. I’ve learned about the border disputes between China and India, serious enough to lead my Lonely Planet guidebooks to print “The external boundaries of India on this map have not been authenticated and may not be correct” on their maps. And now I’ve learned everything there is to know about the emerging military alliance between Japan and the Philippines, especially how it affects China.
In America, we speak of “Asian” cuisine like it’s all the same – as if you could substitute one country for another – never realizing the countries here wouldn’t agree. That the Thai restaurant down the street from my father’s home serving Chinese delicacies alongside a sushi menu would look totally blasphemous to people in China, who still haven’t forgotten what Japan did to them.
I’m reminded of what Alex Tizon wrote about in his memoir Big Little Man:
As a journalist in my twenties and thirties, I wrote extensively about these [Asian] communities. No surprise, I found each group exuberantly complex and instinct, and perceiving themselves as separate from — and often antipathetic to — other Asian ethnicities. The parents and grandparents clove to their countrymen, the Vietnamese with other Vietnamese, Koreans with Koreans, Cambodians with Cambodians.
It was the children and grandchildren, the ones growing up in America, who would find — or be coerced into — common ground. Years of checking “Asian” on countless forms, of being subjected to the same epithets and compliments, of living in the same neighborhoods and housing projects, and sharing similar challenges and aspirations — the most important to become Americanized — all of these would compel young Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Filipinos to accept their belonging to the category known as Asians.
Perhaps the most unifying force was the perception that everyday Americans saw them as the same, and what made them the same was their “racial uniform,” to use a term coined by sociologist Robert Park. The uniform was thought to consist of a certain eye and nose shape, hair and skin color, and body type, usually shorter and skinnier — identifiers of the Yellow or Mongoloid or Oriental and finally now the Asian race.
…We Asians were now in the same boat. Our uniform did not lie. Like Lisa said on the Grand Concourse: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino — same thing!
Yep, this is what happened in America – we just clustered everything from Asia together, and assumed that it was one great unified map. Never realizing that it was one great lie.
Asia isn’t that great, united land where countries always peacefully coexist. But that doesn’t mean friendships don’t happen to cross unlikely borders. After all, even if he still dislikes Japan’s government, my husband has actually changed his feelings towards the country as a whole. He has Japanese friends. Still, there is one thing though:
“So, does this mean I can buy you a Toshiba someday?” I prodded him, with a grin.
“Not really. I still have standards, you know,” he smiled.
In Japan, ballroom dancing is regarded with much suspicion. For a couple to embrace and dance in front of others is beyond embarrassing. A married couple would never think of going out arm in arm, let alone dancing together! A couple would hardly say, ‘I love you’, out loud. The Japanese rather think that intuitive understanding is everything.
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