Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Color is Love?

"He loves me. He loves me not." Library of Congress, 1910.
U.S. SENATORS GATHERED THIS WEEK at a hearing to discuss anti-Muslim discrimination and to determine if the Justice Department needs more resources to deal with the growing problem. Sadly, it seems unlikely that we'll ever live in a world without prejudice. Thankfully, there are always people who stand up against hate.

This week, 102 years ago, Californians Helen Gladys Emery, 21, and Gunjiro Aoki, 25, a native of Japan, fell in love and decided to marry. At the time, European-Americans and Japanese people were not allowed to marry in California; that state's legislature had passed the law just weeks before.

When the engagement news broke, a mob gathered outside her family's home and pelted Emery and her mother with rocks, rice and dead flowers as the two raced for a train to take them to Washington State, where Aoki, traveling separately, would meet them and the couple could legally marry. At the train station, another crowd gathered to hurl insults.

BUT THE YOUNG LOVERS STOOD STEADFAST: Aoki refused an offer of $1,000 from the Japanese community in San Francisco to give up his alliance. "Not for two million dollars," he answered. And before she left, Emery issued a public statement. In part, it read:

"I love Gunjiro Aoki, have loved him for some time, and sincerely hope to maintain my love for him despite all that may be said or done, despite the slurs on his character or the insults of the small-minded and petty individuals. . . . I cannot see why children born of such a union would possess to any lesser degree those attributes of Americanism, as judged in its highest and broadest sense, than, say, those born of a union between a native of Poland and one of the interior of Russia. Mentality, breeding, courtesy, honor, love of country and filial devotion are as much a part of the Japanese characteristics as they are American."

Turned away in Portland and Tacoma, the couple wed in Seattle — thanks to the mayor's permission and armed guards to prevent any more crowds from stopping or hurting them.

According to their great niece, playwright Brenda Wong Aoki, after the wedding her Uncle Gunjiro said, “To Christian spirit all things are equal. If you understand about love, you know it is the same in all nationalities. What is the color of love?”

The couple had five children and were married until Aoki's death in 1932. Incredibly, the U.S. government revoked Emery's citizenship for her marriage to Aoki — and reinstated it after his death and her name change to "Oakie."

AttaGirl notes:
Nancy Nichols will receive a copy of Friends Forever. The winner? Chosen by my 13-year-old daughter.


  1. I am the great-grandson of Gunjiro and Helen Gladys Aoki. Their first born was my grandmother and I wish to thank my great-great grandmother for the courage to stand up to my great-great grandfather John Emery and the racist society of the time. Too bad this racisim still exists. DS

    1. Woah! That's wonderful! If you'd like to, could you answer a few questions for my report on their couragee?