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.
I know a lot of you out there are already fans of the AMWF blog When West Dates East (written by the incredibly funny and smart young writer Autumn Ashbough). Here’s the story of how Autumn decides to honor her fiance’s heritage with a very little something red on their wedding day. That’s all I’m going to say about that — read on for the whole story!
Like most brides, I got more than a few pieces of sexy lingerie at my bridal shower. Mesh merry widows, sheer nightgowns, several garters with blue, and even a red silk thong.
Now, I have never been a supporter of the thong. Nope. My politics are liberal, but my clothing is conservative. While I currently live in fashion forward, underwear-optional Los Angeles, I remain the Grand Champion of Excess Fabric. When turtlenecks are in style, I squeal and buy some in every color. (Sleeveless turtlenecks are also a godsend when you work in an over-air-conditioned office building with old, overweight white guys in suits.)
The giver of the red thong was one of my former coworkers. As I thanked her, I must have looked a little puzzled. She quickly explained that she thought it was appropriate, since red was the traditional lucky Chinese color. As I had not yet ventured into the AMWF cyber community, I nodded with the other clueless guests and filed that fact away for future reference.
My Chinese-American fiancé had a blast rummaging through my risqué gifts after the bridal shower. Andy picked up each item, examined it, and dropped it on the floor by the bed. He would then study the lingerie, nod, and say, “Yeah. That one’ll look great!”
But when he got to the red thong, he didn’t even take it out of the box. Andy just pushed it aside with a wistful sigh, because he knew there was no chance in hell I’d ever wear it.
Like many first generation Americans, Andy had no interest in his Chinese heritage. His goal was to assimilate quickly. He stopped speaking Cantonese after learning it was useless in kindergarten. The only accent Andy retains is a smidgeon of the pidgin he grew up with in Hawaii. He picked up tennis, baseball, weightlifting, and dancing instead of martial arts. Even his car, a Ford Mustang Cobra, was aggressively American. (He also drove it in an unhealthily aggressive American style.)
Andy’s cousins were the same way. His Fashion Plate Cousin’s wedding was as American as you can get – church wedding, hotel reception, poofy white dress, and even a super white groom from Oklahoma. There was no cheongsam, no daughter-in-law tea ceremony – not even a hint of red in the accent colors.
Clueless white girl that I am, I did not, in fact, notice any of these cultural omissions at the time. Months later, however, when Andy and I attended the wedding of a Japanese-American couple, the ballroom contained a thousand golden origami cranes. While the rest of the wedding was thoroughly American, the bride’s nod to her Japanese heritage involved a year of folding thousands of gold foil cranes – with only the flawless ones displayed. These cranes were eventually made into beautiful designs, framed, and displayed in the couple’s home.
I stared up at the cranes and whispered to Andy, “We should do something like that for our wedding.”
Andy chortled. “Uh-huh. You can’t even fold dumpling wrappers. Good luck with that, honey!”
I elbowed him. “Not the cranes, babe. But something Chinese. The wedding is all…white.”
Andy knew my fits of inspiration often meant more work. Andy was instantly wary. “It’s fine.”
“Maybe the bridesmaids’ dresses…no, they’re already bought…so is my dress, the flowers match the bridesmaids’ dress…” I thought furiously and came up empty. Our wedding was in rural New Hampshire in the fall. There’s nothing remotely Asian for miles. “What if I try and find some kind of cake topper?”
“Your Ex-stepmother already gave you that engraved crystal bell that matches the engraved champagne flutes your sisters gave you.”
“Isn’t there some Chinese custom we could work in?”
“Red envelopes, honey,” Andy responded instantly. “Red envelopes with lots of cash will be just fine.”
And although I bugged Andy repeatedly about trying to work in some Chinese wedding customs, he stuck with red envelopes and refused to budge.
A few weeks before our wedding, I came across a library display with Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruth Lum McCunn. I’ve always loved historical fiction, but when you grow up on the East Coast of the United States, most history is very Eurocentric. I’m always on the lookout to improve my California/ West Coast history, and I scooped up Thousand Pieces of Gold immediately.
Thousand Pieces of Gold tells the story of Lalu, a Chinese girl sold into slavery in 1871. Lalu goes from a Chinese brothel to an American slave merchant, is renamed Polly, and winds up in Idaho as the prize in a salon poker game. Polly regains her freedom, marries, and becomes an American frontierswoman.
The book was a nice escape from wedding stress. Polly’s hardships in the American West put my own wedding stress/ drama in perspective. My wedding shoes were lost? Hell, at least I had shoes! I was worried that my father walking me down the aisle would seem like an endorsement of the patriarchy? At least my father couldn’t ACTUALLY sell me when times were tough! (I have no doubt he would have. Also, I might have deserved it.)
But what struck me most, when I read Thousand Pieces of Gold, was this picture:
Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, my favorite childhood heroine, Polly’s best dress – and therefore her wedding dress – was black. But unlike Laura, Polly was clad all in red underneath. Polly once explained that she was so happy on her wedding day that she just had to wear the Chinese colors of joy and good luck. So while her exterior was the somber, accepted American garb, underneath, Polly celebrated with her Chinese heritage.
And while it was too late to change any external décor at our overly white wedding, I had just the thing – or really, just the thong – to emulate the indomitable Polly Bemis.
The post-wedding photography session at our wedding was interminable. There were photos of the enormous wedding party, and then of the enormous families. Well, my enormous family. Andy only had one set of family photos to take. I had three.
My smile faltered once we got to my Ex-Stepfather and his family. The photographer called out, “Your gums are showing, Autumn!” I lowered my upper lip while I tried to keep smiling. (Try it. I dare you.)
The photographer finally snapped the last shot and called for my Ex-Stepmother. As Ex-Stepmother and company arranged themselves around us, I dropped my smile and whimpered to Andy, “My feet are killing me. You?”
Andy whispered back, “My butt feels funny.”
I giggled. “Your butt? What’s wrong with your butt?”
“Aw, c’mon, honey. You are not alone. I got a red thong, too.”
Most of our wedding pictures are carefully choreographed, with careful smiles. But the one with my Ex-Stepmother and my Ex-Step-Grammy is a little different. In that particular photo, Andy and I grin like a pair of loons.
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