Today is “Loving Day,” the day when the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states. In other words: it’s the day that all interracial marriages in the US can give thanks to Richard and Mildred Loving for enabling us to legally marry the person we love.
To be frank, I only learned that today was Loving Day this morning thanks to some posts on social media. I wish I could say I was more aware, but I’m not. My lovely friends and acquaintances help keep me informed.
First, my former colleague (white) posted a photo of her and her lovely husband (black) on her Facebook feed with the caption: “merely 50 years ago our marriage would have been illegal.” It was a real slap in the face for me to see that number. Fifty. It just goes to show how far America has come in such a short time.
Then, another American blogger I respect and follow posted a photo celebrating her interracial marriage on Loving Day (white and Korean). Seeing the Asian Male White Female duo made me stop and think: why, my marriage could also be considered interracial! Maybe because I’m half-Asian I sometimes forget we are not one and the same racially. However, I must say, his family is always a constant reminder that while I may be Asian–I will never be Chinese (and all Asians DEFINITELY aren’t the same). But that’s a story for another time.
As I stopped and thought about the above, another realization dawned on me: my own parents are an interracial marriage!
How could I forget my own white Irish Catholic father from New England and my Francophone Vietnamese mother from Saigon?
The rocky start of an interracial marriage from the Vietnam War
As I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog, my parents met during the Vietnam war. My father was a soldier in the army, and my mother was the daughter of a well-to-do family in Saigon. My mother helped my grandmother run their family restaurant that catered to US soldiers, and my father was an armed forces reporter covering the war from Saigon. Although my grandmother warned my mother to never marry a US soldier, my mother and father had the magic spark. My father frequently visited her restaurant and my mother was happy to spend time with him and practice her English. For them, love had already taken its course.
When Saigon was taken and the US lost the war, all US military were expelled from Vietnam and ordered back to the states. My father tried to stay in Vietnam to find my mother and get her out; he even tried to sneak in through illegal channels via Cambodia and Laos and failed, ultimately forced to return to the USA. He went home to Boston devastated, afraid that he had left my mom and his unborn child (aka my brother) in a Communist country that would be sure to torture or kill her land-owning family.
The tale of my mother’s harrowing escape from Vietnam with a one year old infant strapped to her back deserves its own post so I won’t go into the details; but in short, thanks to the wit of my aunt (my mom’s sister) and the grace of God, my mother and brother were able to reunite with my father in the US. My aunt told me that when my dad received the phone call that my mother and brother had made it to the US in one piece, he broke down and sobbed.
The First Vietnamese Interracial Marriage in Tennessee
Growing up, I often wondered how different my life would have been if my dad had stayed in Boston, Massachusetts. It’s one of the most metropolitan cities in the US. Property values there have skyrocketed in the last 30 years. It’s home to the best universities in the USA (Harvard, anyone?). It’s diverse, fun, and full of culture. Boston ranks as one of my favorite US cities ever. When I first visited Boston as a teenager, the only thought that passed through my mind was: why the hell did my dad leave such an amazing city? I often asked my father this question, but he never seemed to give me a clear answer.
After learning more about US history and hearing snippets of family stories, I can only come to one conclusion: he felt he did not belong in Boston. During the 1970s, New England was a hotbed of protesters and hippies. I can only imagine all the blowback and disdain my father was assaulted with from local friends and family upon his return from the war. The veterans of the Vietnam War, unlike those from WW2, have not only had to endure the trauma of war, but also the scorn of their home country. I’m sure it must have been hard for my father to stomach the anti-war protests of the New England coast.
Plus, as my aunt later told me, my father’s predominantly white community found his relationship with this Asian woman–a Vietnamese one, no less–alien and strange. While I don’t think my father received any racial threats or suffered through prejudice, his wife didn’t fit the typical New England nuclear family of the 1970s.
For these reasons and more, my father took my mother and his newborn son away from Boston and across the USA. I often imagine my father like Lewis and Clark, donning a hat and traversing the US for a new frontier of opportunity and hope.
And God only knows why, but my father chose Tennessee as a first contender for his new life and home. This is where, he decided, he would officially marry my mother and start a new life.
My parents were married in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977. My father’s sister from Boston and my mother’s sister from Los Angeles flew to Memphis to attend their wedding. It was a very small ceremony in a tiny Catholic church with a simple reception to follow (weddings were so much simpler back then).
This marriage, however, was special. My mother and father were the first Vietnamese-American marriage in the state of Tennessee. As the Vietnam war had just ended only two years prior, it was a hot story for the local news. Bits of the ceremony were recorded and both my mother and father were interviewed for the news piece.
“So how do you feel today, marrying your husband here in the USA?”
“Oh I happy,” my mother said in her still broken English. “But you know, I think my husband look fat in his tuxedo.”
Even to this day, my dad laughs about how he got dissed by his wife on his wedding day and it was broadcast on live air for all of Tennessee to hear.
Twenty years later (when I was 17), I had the pleasant experience of accompanying my mother and father to Memphis, TN when they renewed their vows at the very same church.
Interracial marriage in the US today
It’s amazing to think that, if the Loving case did not happen, my father and mother would have been unable to legally marry. Thanks to that court ruling in 1967, my father and mother, me and my husband, and countless others are able to happily marry the ones they love, regardless of race.
As of 2010 interracial marriages accounted for 15.1% of all new marriages in the United States. In the 1950s, approval for interracial marriage was at 5%, but by the early 2000s this percentage soared to 80%. It’s amazing how in such a short time period (50 years) the USA–and the world–was able to change so drastically for the better. In my father’s world, he was scorned and shunned for marrying another race. In my world, we are not only accepted by the community, but we have a whole host of other friends and acquaintances who are also in interracial marriages.
As a child growing up in rural Utah, it was rare for me to see another half-Asian person and relate to someone with interracial parents. Now, thanks to the internet and my many travels, I realized that there are more half kids from my generation than I could have imagined. As the world becomes more globalized and the rate of interracial couples increase, I see more kids like me on the horizon.
And that’s a great thing.