Summer Memories Series-Part 4

31 Aug

summer memories

Part 4 of our Summer Memories Series is brought to us by Yoshiko Nue.  

This post is being published exactly 35 years to the day after her first trip to the USA!

How I became a Tokyoite Texan

 “What, Brownsville? Of all places?”

This is a common reaction from fellow Texans upon hearing about my first summer in the US — the summer of 1978.  For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Texas, the state is one and a half times larger than Japan. Brownsville is at the state’s southernmost tip, right north of the Rio Grande on the border.

Did I live there then? No.

Did my family visit somebody there? No.

I was there without my parents.


That summer I participated in the Labo/4-H Exchange Program in Japan. Labo’s motto is “Languages build children’s future.” Kids learn foreign languages through songs and by performing plays. My sister and I were members, and my parents enrolled us for the summer home-stay program. I guess they were pretty progressive. I wasn’t sure if spending a month in America would improve my English. Simply staying in America was and is WAY cool to many Japanese teenagers.


The participants and chaperones headed for San Francisco on Pan Am flight 12 with a stopover in Anchorage. It was an era before the smoking ban on board. It was a long flight and I hated cigarette smoke, but my excitement and anticipation allowed me to enjoy every minute of it. From San Francisco I flew to Texas. Only four Labo students were assigned to Texas that summer since it was the first time that the state was part of the program. I initially felt like I was being cast off to an unknown, uncharted land.

Yoshiko at the beach

Courtesy of Chris Cummins


And what a wonderful uncharted land it turned out to be!  America, the land of abundance.

So my summer with the Cummins family began: Keith and Jo Ann, their children Jennifer, age thirteen, and Christopher, age four. They were great hosts, truly hospitable, making sure that I’d have a great time. Jennifer was beautiful and mature, like a big sister though we were the same age.


Everything was big, wide, and far: cars, people, houses, stores, roads, servings of food and drinks; you name it. Such abundance everywhere I saw. I was awed by the views from the car: Vast flat land stretched to the horizon and remained unchanged for hours during the drives.


Strangely I don’t recall much struggle communicating in English (I bet the Cummins would say otherwise). Most of the time I understood what was being said. The tough part was communicating what I wanted to say. I did use my English dictionary occasionally. It came in handy when I had to resort to writing notes. One note was to a Hispanic helper, who did the laundry, asking if she’d seen my black T-shirt that I got from the Gladys Porter Zoo.


Naturally I went where Jennifer went: to the mall, a babysitting gig, the camp where I learned macrame, the church, the beach, the zoo, and Mexico. Oh, and the movies. Yes, the movies.


Here’s a trivia question: What was the biggest movie in the summer of 1978?  Grease!


Jennifer, her friends Julie and Kimberly and I went to see it three times (and that was just during my stay. They must’ve seen it before).  My first movie-going experience in the US was so much fun. In the car back home they sang Summer Nights at the top of their lungs. I didn’t join in because I didn’t understand the words, but listening to them was “electrifying.” The movie, as silly and simple as can be, remains one of my favorites because of the memory. Though I’d already loved movies, the experience must’ve had something to do with my eventual involvement in the film industry and getting an M.A. in film.


We watched another movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. It was before I became a huge fan of the Beatles, but I knew the title was a Beatles song. I’ve never seen it again since. The movie’s been stored in my “oblivion, forever-lost” file . . . until I just found out the whole movie is on Youtube!


When we went to eat at a cafeteria I was mesmerized by the choices and serving sizes of the dishes. Excitedly I took more than I could eat including two big pieces of different cakes. I ended up not being able to finish it all. No one said anything, but I felt so embarrassed. After this experience I’ve made it a habit not to take more than I could eat at a buffet or cafeteria.


At the church I initially felt uncomfortable because I felt I didn’t belong there. But the people were very nice and welcoming. The church’s newspaper ran a small article about me with a photo. A Japanese woman who’d lived in the area read the article and called me. She was excited to be able to talk to somebody in Japanese. I felt sad for her as she’d been living there with nobody to talk to in her mother tongue.


In the family’s big American car (without seat-belts!) we went to Matamoros, Mexico. I remember getting a bit nervous at the checkpoint as Keith reported to the officer that there were four Americans and one Japanese. I don’t remember if I had to show my passport. It went smoothly; we even didn’t get out of the car. The air was more relaxed then, or it seemed so to my naive thirteen-year-old eyes. It was pretty much carefree compared to the current strictness at airports and border checkpoints.


Once in Matamoros I encountered a shocking sight: children around my age and younger flocking to Americans to beg for money. They even came to me; I bet that they saw me as somebody with more than what they had. The sight was heart breaking and terrifying. What a contrast from the American abundance a short distance away.


A great summer ends just as obediently as a boring one. As I was leaving Brownsville with sadness mixed with a bit of relief, I vowed to be back. I really liked Texas and Texans. Since then I studied English continuously in a variety of ways and majored in English-language literature as an undergraduate.


My Tokyoite-Texan-hood

It took another 13 years to be back in Texas. This time for graduate school to study film at the University of North Texas in Denton, 35 miles north of Dallas. With a few years of working in the film industry in Tokyo and my being a film buff, I became interested in studying film in the US. I chose UNT among the ones that accepted me. Official reasons were the usual, location, cost of living, climate, etc., but I knew it was more of a “Texas” thing. I met my husband there, went back to Tokyo for a while, and eventually moved back to Texas.

texas and old glory

Don’t Mess With Texas

Now I’m a mother of a real Texan, Texas-born and Texas-raised gal. As I’m spending the 21st summer in Texas, so many things have become commonplace to me: the hugeness and sprawl of the land, the friendliness of the people, the ubiquitous Lone Star flags, the Crape myrtles with their expansive branches and flowers, the heat that sticks like an adhesive that you can’t scrape off. Have you ever had the sense that you were meant to be someplace else? For me it was Texas.


There’s a Japanese saying, Kawaii ko ni wa tabi wo sasero, “If you love your child, send him out into the world.”  Click to Tweet It!


My experience was definitely an example of this. As a child who was let out into the world, I always entertained the idea that I’d do the same for my child. As a parent, though, I’m on the protective side of the spectrum. But I have the same wish as any parent; to let her have a great summer filled with awesome, unforgettable, even life-changing experiences that turn into fondest memories.


I have no pictures of the 1978 summer. When my family moved from Hiroshima to Tokyo in 1979, the photos got misplaced or lost in the process. But with each Texas summer, the memories of Brownsville come back in ever fading, fleeting pieces. It’s all in my mind: The pieces naturally get scattered away over time like a photo rolled into a ball, tightly held in your fist. The creases get whiter. Details and colors get blurred and deep creases become holes and tears. But I know I always have that summer.


That summer will likely remain as No.1. No other summer surpasses it, including the summer I met my husband, the summer we got married, and the summer my daughter was born. If it weren’t for the summer of 1978, I would have none of the other Texas summers. And I wouldn’t have been able to communicate in the language in which I am writing this. So, does the ability to speak in different languages enrich and build your future? I bet it does.

Thanks for readin’.  Wishin’ y’all a great summer.

yoshiko nue translations


Yoshiko Nue is a homeschooler and freelance Japanese translator. With over two decades of experience as an English/Japanese translator, she offers translation services specifically to self-published Kindle authors.

16 Responses to “Summer Memories Series-Part 4”