The American War Bride Experience

GI Brides of World War II

War bride from Philippines smitten with American ideal

By Gene Park

Norma Castillo reveals her age to be "70-something," and in a winking Freudian slip, refers to her wedding day as "the saddest day" in her life. What's telling is what she says afterward.

Norma Vega

"I'm a victim of circumstance," she declares.
That circumstance: the oft-ignored story of war brides from the Philippines. Her victimhood: falling more in love with the promises of Western life than with the Hawaii-born American GI who wooed her. It's not as if she didn't love Wallace Castillo, Norma explains in her daughter's short documentary, "Strange Land." It's just that she recognizes the enormity of her decision to marry out of her country and traditions. Director Stephanie Castillo's mother is among hundreds of thousands of women from Asia and Europe, the war brides of American servicemen. This year is the 60th anniversary of their arrival on U.S. soil.

Norma wed Wallace in a church at her behest, the last time she asserted her culture. She learned poker and bowling, but found it hard to adjust, with her husband out with friends all day.

Through casual conversation, the film gives insight into this war bride's perspective, but sheds little light on the overall movement. Perhaps in a feature-length documentary that avenue could have been explored.

At the very least, the film answers the question it poses: Was Norma's American dream fulfilled? The film's parting shots answer: Her many children's contributions to Americana prove her achievement.

Wallace's story, that of an American-born Filipino soldier, is missing. How tragic that the audience can't hear his thoughts upon visiting his ravaged homeland, and of marrying a girl of similar blood, but not of the same world. But how lucky that we can hear the story of 70-something Norma, told in an accent that almost defiantly remains, despite years of assimilation into a strange land.

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