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Interracial Marriage - Chris Sarno Memoir

 
The Marlex training came just four months before the end of Sarnoís second tour of duty. At the end of November, his time was up and he headed back to the States. By the time that he rotated out of AT-7 on November 22, 1954, it was getting cold, since winter came to the Korean peninsula sooner than it did in the States. "I remember as the USNS Brewster was cruising past the home island of Japan in the inland sea," Sarno said. "The oriental scenery was majestic. I whispered a sayonara to Yoshiko over and over until the horizon was filled with just the Pacific Ocean. I never thought that I would ever see her again."

Upon his return to the States, Chris Sarno signed up at the unemployment office. "I was entitled to $26 a month. I could have taken the entire 26 week handout, but I got a city job at $55 a week after 13 months of unemployment. I worked for the city of Medford until September of 1957, when I was hired to do general factory work at a lacquer plant in Medford."

Chris started writing to Yoshiko maybe three or four months after he got home as a civilian. "I missed her," he said, "and I had a hard time readjusting to the puritan dating social code of my country. She responded right away. She had an interpreter write for her. His name was Taro, and he liked me. We got along great. We exchanged letters for a couple of years, and I used to send Yoshiko and her family clothes. On several occasions I bought dresses to send to her. One was a pure white lacy dress that I bought in a Boston fashion store for $45.00. I just knew that she would look good in it. She sent a picture of herself wearing it. She was just beautiful with her black hair and white pumps."

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Sarnoís feelings for the Japanese girl grew stronger, even though they were thousands of miles apart from each other. "I told her that I was falling in love," he said. "I thought about it before I wrote professing my love for her. She said that she was in love with me, too. Come Christmas time in 1955, I proposed to her, and I told her that she had to stop being a "business girl." She agreed. I started to send her $25 a month to help her outóthat was 10,300 yen in those years." The couple made tentative plans to get married as soon as he could save the $2,000 that was needed to get him back to Kyoto to bring Yoshiko to America. "I saved like Silas Marner thereafter," he said. He also spoke to his mother about marrying Yoshiko. "I requested her to help Yoshiko when the day came that I brought her to the USA. I saw hurt in her eyes, and she wanted me not to do it," he said. "My mom was never my enemy, but she wasnít for a marriage between Yoshiko and me. She cited all the racial differences from World War II and the Korea years. Prejudice was still rampant here in Boston. My mom wanted me to marry an American girl. I never brought up Yoshiko again to my mother. I sought out my Dad about a Japanese-American marriage. He, too, painfully thought it wouldnít turn out right. He said I should marry an American girl."

Concerned in a fatherly and motherly way for their sonís attraction to a Japanese girl, Chrisí parents nevertheless placed every letter that Yoshiko sent to him on his bedroom bureau on the third floor without fanfare. "I was totally in love with Yoshiko now," Sarno said. "It came easily from my heart. I asked her to chat with a Japanese Catholic priest about learning to become a Catholic. She tried, but without success. I wondered about that a lot." Chris even visited an Army GI and his new Filipino bride. "They were in heaven and in love," he said. "I thought of Yoshiko on the way home from their house. My pal knew how I felt about Yoshiko, and I told him of my familyís opposition to such an interracial marriage. He was in my corner, but was in complete surprise when I broke down crying at my inner turmoil. He was totally speechless, and I apologized to him for the show of emotions. There was really no need to apologize, however, as my Army pal was a damn good friend."

Sarno continued to work and save to bring Yoshiko to the USA. "I did my best to save dough," he said. "I worked and then came home to eat and sleep. I also did a lot of reading on Japan." One day, he casually told a coworker that he planned to marry a Japanese girl. The news of this ended up with the boss. Later that day, the boss took Sarno aside and kindly told him to reconsider all the ramifications of an interracial marriage. He felt that his young employee, unaware of what marriage entails, would be making a mistake to marry a Japanese girl. "It made no impression on me," Sarno said. "I knew Yoshiko like no one else did. I wanted her for my wife." However, hesitation set in deep into 1957 when Yoshiko stopped her usual two letters a month to Chris. He didnít hear from her for four weeks, and although she apologized to him for the time lapse, Chris accused her of going back to being a "business girl." She denied it, and they kept writing.

But then, Sarno began to seriously reflect on the possible consequences of having children in an interracial marriage. "I had to write to her and say I had a change of heart," he said. "I couldnít do it. She and I could probably have made it, but once we had children and my daughter or son came to me when they were ten years old and said, ĎDad, somebody at school called me a gook,í that would have crushed me. I told her that for that reason I wasnít going to marry her. It wasnít that I didnít love her. I just couldnít handle that aspect of being married to her. I was being honest with her and she said that she understood the racial differences. I broke it off with her and we didnít write to each other any more after 1957."

Once back in the States and out of the Marine Corps, Chris Sarno became just an average American Joe again. "I dated local girls that I had no intention of having a sexual relationship with. I had seen the difference in the more liberal society towards sexual activityóthey accepted what we frowned on. But now I was back in the way I was brought up. I didnít like going back to the American way, but I had to do it. I was a Roman Catholic, living with my family of brothers, sisters, and parents like nothing had changed. I was a Marine, but for my family, Junior was home. When I married an American girl in 1958, I wrote and told Yoshiko. I didnít write to make her feel sad. I just wanted her to know what was going on in my life. She wrote back and told me that she was very, very happy that I was happy. She wished me luck and told me that she wished it was her that I was marrying, but she had no hatred in her heart for me."

The Japanese girlís future was bleak at best. With her parents dead from the ravages of World War II, Yoshiko was relegated to second class citizenry in post-war Japan. She was an outcast in the family-oriented Japanese society. "The people that she was staying with said that she was saddened that we never got together," Sarno said. "When my first child was born in July of 1960, I got a letter from her interpreter. He knew there was a big absence in our writing, but he liked me. He wanted me to know that Yoshiko had committed suicide. She left a note telling them to write to me and tell me that she still loved me, and that she hoped that my wife and I would enjoy our married life together. She also said that she didnít hate me at all." She said that she wasnít a prostitute anymore, but Sarno doubted that. "Because when you prostitute in Japan," he said, "they buy you to become a prostitute. They actually own you because they paid money to somebody for you to become a prostitute for the house. They had a way of keeping the girl in that bondage. She couldnít pay her way out. They just made that impossible, even though she might save a phenomenal amount of money, say that she doesnít want to be a prostitute anymore, and try to buy her way out."

Whether or not Yoshiko had been a prostitute would not have mattered to Chris if they had married. "Had I not gone to live with my family," Sarno reflected, "I probably would have married Yoshiko in spite of myself. But being back in a rigid lifestyle, I just fitted back in." Besides, Sarno noted, regardless of his personal feelings for the Japanese girl, interracial marriage was not accepted in 1954. "I donít care how itís looked upon today," he said. "In 1954 or 1955, it wouldnít work. I truly believe that, even though I might have broken her heart, it was the best thing in those years. I wouldnít have wanted to see my wife cry because of prejudice against her. You canít go out socially and take on the whole world, because itís going to happen the next time and the next time, and itís not going to go away. Where are you supposed to run away and hide? In the woods? Thatís no way to live." Still, Chris Sarno remains very sentimental to this day about the Japanese beauty that he fell in love with so many decades ago. "I regret that I did not marry her," he said. "I know she would have been loyal and eternally happy with meópoor or rich.

 

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