When Dad returned to Japan after having been shipped by the US military away from us, as was the common practice by the military in those days, for those who dared to fall in love with Japanese and Korean women, we moved onto Tachikawa Air Force Base.
In my hometown Ōme 青梅 my life was Japanese. It was small town Japanese. Thoroughly, even as outsider, black, brown, kinky red-haired, different, enemy child.
Then through the gates of the Tachikawa Air Force Base, first in 1962, I became a hybrid. I began to learn English. Everyone spoke English except my mother and I. Japanese people stared at me whenever Mama and I left the base and we were INSIDE JAPAN, off the base. or OUTSIDE THE BASE AND IN JAPAN. Buildings were different. There were no more crowds. Our lives became decidedly more “modern” with the amenities of washing machine, refrigerator, western furniture etc. Before I sat on tatami and wore geta. Now I wear tennis shoes and sing the Star Spangled Banner. And my Blackness was now in bloom in an American way.
My mixed-race identity was now in bloom. On the base, there were many mixed kids, so I didn’t stand out. I felt more comfortable, even though “Jap” and “nigger” were sometimes hurled at me from the mouth of a few parents or on the playgrounds at school. But now from American kids and adults, not Japanese. But there were more of those who helped me to enjoy life and not feel threatened or lonely. There were more friends who thought of those words as wrong. Milk shakes were that much more delicious to me, once I got a hold of one at the snack bar on the base.
One of my favorite things to do on the base was to go to feast at the snack bar. I’d always order a hamburger and french fries and different kinds of milk shakes or malts to go with it. Once in awhile it would be a coca-cola. But most often it was a milk shake. Strawberry milk shakes.
And not the kind that is prevalent nowadays. Nowadays, it’s more like melted sugar ice cream. Thick, clumpy. In those days, the milk shakes were milk shakes. They were bubbly, shaken up, lighter, a bit more milky, subtle.
I was Black-American outside of the house. I was Japanese inside of our house. Mama and I lived at home. Dad would take me out of the house to hobby shops or on his errands. Our visits to the snack bar were always full of glee, anticipation and tasty-ness. I became Black-American on the base. My distance from my mother began in a subtle way, and a closeness with Dad began. Milk shakes symbolized this.
Later, when we returned to Tachikawa in 1968 from living in Albuquerque, then Hawaii, my friends in junior high school would go to that same snack bar after school. I can still taste those milk shakes. It is attached to my earliest memories of Tachikawa Air Force Base, of becoming American. Inside the base gates, outside the base gates. Boundaries entered my body, forming. Strawberry milk shake taste.
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