Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Music Video: Vintage Japanese Movie Song: Mongrel Marie 混血児マリー

Teresa Cabio was 14 years old at the time she was cast in the movie in 1971, singing the song that was somewhat of a popular hit, called Ainoko Mari 混血児マリー (Mongrel/Love Child Marie).

It is interesting to note that in this song, the Japanese characters for “mongrel” are written as Konketsuji–the so-called scientific term for mixed-blood people, especially Amerasians (born to U.S. American servicemen and Japanese women).  But it is spoken as Ainoko, which means love-child, child of illicit union, child of fleeting love, child of a foreigner, mongrel–which was the everyday street name and pejorative term for mixed-race in the postwar period.

It is also important to know that soon after the term konketsuji was formed, it became the same pejorative term and used in the same manner.  Today, both the terms konketsuji and ainoko have turned to the world haafu (half).  All of these terms, to me, are problematic.  In Japanese minds, these can also be substituted with the word gaijin, which means ‘foreigner,’ applying to all non-Japanese, especially with or of western descent.

In the movie, Teresa plays a cabaret singer who is cast as a mixed African-American/Japanese woman, although she is of Filipino and Chinese background.

The song’s lyrics are typical, in that they portray the typical and dominant discourse of  a singularly sad impossibility and reality of being a “mongrel” in the world, which points to it as fact, instead of a series of actions by dominant society that maintain the tactics of creating exploitation and cruelty in social life.  It also underplays the variety of resistances and courage, and diversity of the lives of mixed-race people.

At the same time, stereotypes cannot be completely ignored because there are Amerasian Japanese (and other Amerasians) born after war and occupation to US and European servicemen who experienced exactly these circumstances or circumstances more violentized and oppressive. While others have experienced so-called success in entertainment or sports, successfully married into newly-formed dominant notions of nuclear family life,  or who were raised in orphanages (and therefore largely ignored by the mainstream as people think of them as being “taken care of”), their lives were not easy, in general.

People do not think of the continual racism, prejudice and abuses afforded to these Amerasians, even as they have lived and survived in their success.  Amerasian entertainers were more prone to exploitation and abuse by many of the entertainment personnel, although some were heroically resistant to prejudices and proceeded to support and protect their Amerasian clients.  Some of them who could “pass” as mainstream or another nationality or ethnicity that carried more clout, would do just that, never mentioning their heritage.  But it is not “tragic” or sad in totality.  They are examples of struggle, empowerment, survival against the odds.  They are examples of how dominant societies need to be held accountable and re-think themselves, no matter where.

Our family left Japan to live in the US in 1962, when I was seven years old.  We returned to Japan in 1968 and lived there until 1970.  At this time, there had already been sensational cases on the Japanese news on various extortion, robbery, and murder cases involving mixed Japanese-US people.  Unless they were singing stars or sports stars, there were no other portrayals or acknowledgement of the existing mixed children of American servicemen who left their mothers behind in Japan and who were now teenagers and adults in Japan.  The continuing presence of American servicemen to the present day, especially in Okinawa, provides new configurations of how mixed-race people are portrayed, known, discussed and ignored, revered and disdained–sometimes all simultaneously in Japan.  Because of this, in the 70s, I was often seen as something exotic and foreign (as a desired anomaly and American Black) or with suspicion.  However, one thing had changed: I didn’t feel the menacing danger that I navigated as a child in Japan in the 50s and early 60s.  This had changed.  However, abuse of “non-Japanese” became more structural and invisible to the public because of the normalized (and therefore unquestioned) position of what passes for “Japanese” by this time.

The lyrics of this song portray the maintenance of the undesired place of being mixed, invigorating and maintaining the myth of Japanese ethnic homogeneity born of the uniting of various Japanese and European pre-war nationalisms, and providing the underground world in Japan, where mixed-race Japanese often have survived against tremendous odds and because all other space/places were closed to them (us).  Not only does this point to the social facts and invisibility, there are tactics that are revealed–tactics of mainstream thought that go unchecked.

For instance, in the lyrics below, there is the line that she “doesn’t understand anyone’s words.”  When I was living in Japan, both as a little child in the late 50s to early 60s, and as a teenager from the late 60s to 1970, there was this assumption that mixed-people were foreign.  Japanese is my first language and consciousness.  Marginal but Japanese.  For them to assume that Japanese mixed people living in Japan do not understand Japanese was a way for the mainstream to dismiss mixed-ness as a foreign object, as American, not Japanese.  It is almost as if Amerasian children and adults like myself, were the object of the projection of Japanese regret, hostility, shame and rage toward the United States.  But since the US was the occupier, the boss, the overlords and Japan was devastated and in need of things such as food and infrastructure, and having lost the war, the complexity of these feelings were directed at the US presence but were also equally welcomed.  Amerasians were in no position to be admired at that time.  This, however, changed by the 1970s, as Eurasians became the desired norm in entertainment, as far as looks go, and by the 21st century, Blackness–called “B-Style” had firmly taken a hold of Japanese culture as somewhat desirable cultural commodities, holding Blackness and mixed-ness and Latin-mixed and Eurasian Japanese hostage to these canals of thought.

For most people around the world, instead of questioning their own prejudices and those of others through the legal and civic channels, they ignored or participated in the marginalization of Amerasians, keeping Japan (or whatever national ethnicity) pure and untouched — except by its own violent disposition to the ‘other.’  This is not a conclusion but a question.

Partial lyrics and translation:

雨の中 傘もささず                   Without even an umbrella in the rain
濡れながら 泣いていた            Crying while being soaked
可哀想な 混血児マリー            is pitiful Mongrel Marie

言葉さえ わからないで            Not even understanding anyone’s words
友達も 誰もいない                    Not even having any friends
可哀想な 混血児マリー            is pitiful Mongrel Marie

ある日ママが「マリー」と呼んで    One day Mother called to her “Marie”
「わたしはもうすぐ死んでゆく」     I’m going to pass away very soon

許してね というママに                      And in saying “please forgive me” to Mama
死なないで と泣いていた                  crying to plead “don’t die”
可哀想な 混血児マリー                      pitiful Mongrel Marie

わたしのパパはどこにいるの             Where is my Papa?
誰も教えてはくれないの                      Doesn’t anyone want to reply?

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: