Four travelers from East and West.
Four travelers to California.
Two brought as children, one drawn by gold, one taken in arranged marriage.
Generations pass, and their offspring fall in love.
Four travelers converge in one American family.
This story was first published Dec. 2, 2010.
BY ROBERT DIGITALE
I looked at Carol and saw a teenager filled with life and joy. But all my parents first knew about her was that she was Chinese, and to her parents I was a white boy.
The year was 1972. Interracial dating had begun at C.K. McClatchy High in Sacramento where we went to school, but it was still frowned upon by many in the wider world. Yes, children of different races had grown up in the same neighborhoods and gone to the same schools. But dating was a different line to cross.
Once our parents heard the news, they didn’t want us going out with one another. Carol decided to obey her mom and dad. Her choice seemed sensible to me. She was the daughter of immigrants, and I half-expected a stricter stand by her folks. Her obedience also bore fruit. After a few months, her siblings and she were able to persuade her parents to let her to go out with me.
In contrast, I wouldn’t listen to my parents. My mom always had been close to me, but she took the lead in trying to stop this relationship. I rebelled. It was the cause of several years of conflict. Even now it seems too painful to recount what was said.
What came next was an alienation that cut two ways. A headstrong teenager is a hard thing to control. I soon learned that the only consequence I faced for my decision was my parents’ disapproval. So I gritted my teeth and resisted and found I could pretty much do what I wanted.
But it also meant I had launched myself into a sort of solo orbit. Carol couldn’t become part of my family’s life. Nor would I dare tell any of our extended family about my girlfriend, for fear of what they might say in support of my parents.
It would have taken a self-confident and mature teen to be able to handle this disconnection. I was neither. Instead, I often found myself pulling Carol away from friends, too. I put a low priority on us developing relationships with other people. And on many weekends Carol had to work as a waitress at her family’s restaurant. I found it easy to spend time with my friends or family or time alone with Carol.
This went on for years. But a day came after high school when we were pondering our future. We were driving down Freeport Boulevard in my family’s tan 1965 Chrysler Newport. We both knew we wanted to get married.
“We just might have to live without my parents in our lives,” I told Carol.
“I don’t think so,” she told me. “I’m not going to marry you without your parents’ blessing.”
How would that happen? I asked myself. How could we ever get their blessing?
I would hate to think about the arc of my life if Carol had not taken her stand. I didn’t want to hear it then, but she was wise beyond her years. And I wasn’t the only one to benefit from her ultimatum. So did our three daughters, who while growing up received so much love and encouragement from both sets of grandparents.
Still, it was not an easy path she set us on. It never is for the wayward son. But at some point you want to go home.
This is the 12th vignette in the saga of an American Family.
The main characters of “American Risotto” are:
Carol – Robert’s girlfriend
Joseph Pike – Robert’s great-great-grandfather
John Digitale – Robert’s grandfather
Kwong Check Fee/Franklin Fongson – Carol’s father
Ng Sau Ping/Elaine Fongson – Carol’s mother
For earlier installments, go to “American Risotto” in the Features section on this page.
To learn more about the main characters, go to the “American Risotto” page.