Guest Post: Margaret Dilloway on Her Mother’s Immigration

Today, Margaret Dilloway’s How to Be an American Housewife (my review) comes out in paperback.  I really enjoyed the novels look at the immigrant experience, as Shoko adapts to her life as an American housewife, but also the differences between her children, Mike and Suiko.  There are three generations in this novel and their interactions ring true.  While the topic is similar to Amy Tan and Lisa See’s work, the style is Dilloway’s own.

In addition to a giveaway for my U.S. readers (Sorry, the publisher is mailing out the books), I have a guest post from Margaret Dilloway about her mother’s own immigration story, which inspired her to write the novel.  Even better, I’ve got some great photos to share with you as well of her mother and herself.

Without further ado, please welcome Margaret Dilloway:

My mother came of age in Japan during the 1950s. The country was wrecked, men were scarce, and traditional opportunities were few for a young woman like her. The U.S. occupation of her country opened up welcome jobs. Her father told her, “America is the way to go,” and they might as well embrace the American way.

Margaret Dilloway's Mother

She began working for Americans after she graduated from high school, sending money home to help her family and her younger brother go through college. She was a housekeeper and worked at a gift shop.

Mom dated both Japanese and American servicemen, but in her mid-20s she decided she ought to marry an American and get out of the country. She took photos of all her suitors and took those home to show her father. He selected my father, who was in the Navy, as the one she ought to take seriously. “He has honest eyes,” my grandfather decided. I don’t know whether those pictures were black and white or color, but my father has very blue, wide round eyes.

My mother liked to tell the story of how she asked my father to marry her. With his ship was due to leave in a matter of months, she decided he was dillydallying, so she asked him point-blank if he planned to marry her. In her story, she said, “So, you gonna marry me or what?” He said okay. They married in 1958.

About 1940s; Margaret's Mother is in the top row, 4th from the right

They lived all over the country, moving for the Navy. They were stationed in Hawaii, Japan, Florida, and on both the West and East coasts. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the early days. My mother reported people staring or outright insulting her. She struggled to learn English, relying on imitating phrases she heard on television or from my father. My oldest brother, born in 1960, also felt the brunt of insults as a “mixed” race child.

Eventually, in the early 70s, they settled in San Diego, choosing it because of its nice weather; also, it was the final place my dad was stationed. Dad had done his early training here and fell in love with the place. My mother said she liked San Diego because it was more culturally diverse than other places she’d lived, and she didn’t feel so out of place here. My middle brother and I were born, and my father retired from Navy life.

Stories of their peripatetic lifestyle, before my middle brother and I showed up, became part of family lore. Stories of how my oldest brother got stared at, whispered about. How so many people didn’t like my parents being married, while others were pleasantly surprised. My mother loved telling these stories, but I didn’t always like listening. They were her version of, “When I was your age, I walked two miles in a snowstorm to school…” stories, the kind parents tell you to remind you how good you have it. So, like most kids, I’d roll my eyes, but I still listened.

Margaret and her mother (1987)

The stories stuck. I remember her telling me about everything from the beloved Shirley Temple doll she had when she was a kid (it melted, made of a flammable pre-plastic material), to how her Japanese fiancé cheated on her, to how hard she tried to become a proper American housewife.

Her stories, floating around in my head for so many years, inspired the novel. A book she had, THE AMERICAN WAY OF HOUSEKEEPING, gave me the structure I needed to hang the story on. I made up the plot during my research, changing the character from my own mother into the fictional heroine Shoko.

Thanks, Margaret, for sharing such an inspirational story from your family.

Giveaway details: 1 copy of How to Be an American Housewife for 1 U.S. reader.

1. Leave a comment about your own immigrant story or one you heard.

2. For a second entry, leave a link with your Facebook, Tweet, or blog post spreading the word about the giveaway.

3. For a third entry, follow this blog and let me know.

Deadline is Aug. 10, 2011, at 11:59PM EST.


  1. I follow you on my Google Reader- thanks for the giveaway!

    [email protected]

  2. I am the child of immigrants (Mom from Ireland and Dad from Scotland) and their immigrant experience has certainly shaped my and my brother’s lives – in mostly positive ways. I love immigrant stories (I host the Immigrant Stories Challenge) so the author’s guest post especially interests me. Would you mind if I linked to it next week in my Sunday Salon?

  3. I follow

  4. cococroissants Esme
    how to be an american housewifehttps://savvyverseandwit.com/

  5. My husband and I are both the children of immigrants-we are both immigrants ourselves-although I am Canadian I think he adapted much more to the US than I did-If found it easier to adapt to Australia than the US-I think I like the British customs more (all that tea)

  6. Married to an immigrant but would like to have Margaret’s perspective on immigrants in U.S.

  7. Very beautiful cover and this is the type of book I would love to read.

    Thanks for the giveway.

    I subscribed to your blog.


  8. This looks like a wonderful book. Thanks for the giveaway.
    My father came over from Norway through Ellis Island.
    I’m also a follower of your blog.

  9. I had migrated twice… from Hong Kong to Australia when I was a teenager, then from Australia to the US to marry my American husband! So the title “how to be an American housewife” is quite relevant 🙂

  10. Drake DaCosta says

    You know, when it comes to immigration law, it’s important to consider the entire picture, a mindset the majority of the population seems to be lacking due to what one might call “tunnel vision.” Just today though, I found an article that addresses a bit of immigration law that even I somehow managed to overlook (link here, if you’re interested: http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/showlink.aspx?bookmarkid=FD5TWQWHQAH&preview=article&linkid=8296268d-de7a-49df-87e0-bd9622abc899&pdaffid=ZVFwBG5jk4Kvl9OaBJc5%2bg%3d%3d) In any case, I hope you’ll find this to be worth a minute. Enjoy 🙂

  11. Carol Wong says

    I have the reverse situation. I married an immigrant. He was born in Taiwan but thinks of himself as Chinese as his parents came from China. What I find interesting is that somehow I am supposed to know customs by osmosis! I committed some major mistakes just because I didn’t know the customs. I just have to keep saying that “I didn’t know that”. I would love to compare her experience with mine.

  12. This sounds like such a fascinating read. I don’t have my own immigration story, but I remember reading an excerpt from a book years ago (can’t remember the name or author now) that told of a family of immigrants who, in their own country, “zipped” the little strings out of celery before eating it. They were just doing their thing at a dinner they attended and realized that everyone was staring at them. I’m going to have to do some research to find out what this book was. Thanks for this giveaway. Oh, I am also a follower!

  13. I love this post! I was born in 1958 and had a friend growing up who’s mother was Japanese and married to an American serviceman. We all thought she was beautiful and exotic. I can’t wait to read this book.

  14. Beth Hoffman says

    I so enjoyed reading Margaret’s guest post! I already have her book so there’s no need to enter me.

  15. What a fascinating post! I could see the similarities between her mother’s life as written here and the book, which I loved. No need to enter me. I did add this giveaway to my sidebar, though.