Friday, November 16, 2012


From TING AND I: A Memoir...
Why Not Marry?

Why didn’t Tina and I get engaged, in 1964, or even get married? Lately, half of Asian Americans (second generation or later generations) marry Caucasians. In 1964 such marriages were much rarer, if only because there were so few Asian Americans. In the 1960s, some states still had laws against interracial marriage, anti-miscegenation statutes. While the occasional stare did not bother us, we believed that our children would have “marginal man” status in America, not accepted fully by some members of either race. The racial mix might have produced the loveliness of a Nancy Kwan or a child with a combination of our personal strengths, but there was no guarantee.

We were 20 and 21 years of age, too young to marry with confidence, though a long engagement might have been feasible.

Both sets of parents were against such a pairing, for reasons ranging from the practical to the ethnocentric. Tina was an obedient Chinese daughter. I was less obedient, but I did value my parents’ wisdom and greater experience. A marriage would have caused much family discontent.

In this period in America, more so than today, interfaith or interracial marriage was often discouraged. As Tina’s dear friend Deanne Gitner tells it (see more of her contribution in “Tributes”), a dutiful Jewish girl, too, was expected to find a Jewish man to marry:

Tina met Doug in her freshman year, but Tina told us (her corridor mates) that she needed to find a six-foot-tall man from China, from northern China, to keep her parents happy. We felt we understood her problem, as we were all told to find a Jewish boy and that our parents would give us trouble if we did not.
There were only two Asian women in our class in 1962, one of whom was Tina. Tina’s parents sent her away for her junior year to London to study and, probably, to get her away from Doug.


Another question troubled me: Would Tina and I have remained good to each other in the future if external forces became oppressive? I had read Orwell’s 1984 and was convinced and saddened by the protagonist’s capitulation: Winston loved Julia, but broke under torture. They were to continue with him or turn to her. “Do it to Julia,” he croaked. Love was not enough. It was too believable that one would blame the other if the conditions became very unpleasant. I’d like to think we wouldn’t succumb, but I was by no means sure.

If marriage to a successful Chinese professional who loved her would be better for Tina and eventually better for any children she would have, it would be selfish of me to stand in the way. Tina felt the same about me and my best interests. We left it that if neither had married someone else in five years, we would feel free to marry each other. I meant it. Tina suspected that this was a polite refusal. We had a communications failure.

As I have mentioned, Tina’s siblings Gene and Irene are both married to Caucasians, as is Irene’s elder daughter. The more recent the marriage, the less the controversy it aroused, if any.



Tina’s Diary, June1964

Tina twenty years later extracted the following from her diary, written at the time of our separation:

June 8, 1964

Can’t even begin to say what this year has meant to me –only, for now, that it has been the most wonderful, truly wonderful year of my life. I am a different person in many ways and have gone through experiences I never imagined would happen.
At present I am trying my best to alleviate the pain that fills my whole being: Doug and I parted last Saturday, after he met Mom and Dad, and he has not written yet. I know he thinks it is best, and rationally I think it is best. However, it is not easy to erase the memory of a person most dear....
He became my reason for being. He has influenced my thoughts and actions to a great degree. I have matured because of him and have learned so much .... It was the most beautiful thing–the most sincere, earnest, appreciative, trying, fulfilling, happiest experience....
The pain comes and goes. It is not as persistent as two days ago. It is a painful price that I gladly pay in memory of the past.
Whatever the outcome, I admire him most deeply –his spirit, his strength, his kindness. I will always. He has given me so much.

I had been Tina’s first love.


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