Biggest blemishes on Asian-American history

consciousness of the lives of Asian women, the issues they face, my evolving views about them, my sense of identity, in short – my personal reflections about areas in this course including but not limited to current issue(s) Asian women have in today’s life. Throughout this course, it is clear that Asian women in America have had to struggle for what they want, and that they are not afraid to struggle to survive and thrive in a new and different world. Today, Asian women are the same. We are strong, we are determined, and we will create many new venues for our selves, our careers, and our families.

Throughout this course, I have read of the struggle of Asian women to come to America, to make new lives for themselves, and to survive in a new and challenging world. Obviously, I am glad these women succeeded or there would not be such thriving Asian-American societies all around America today. However, I am not glad these women had to suffer so much to live in this country, and that they had to face so much hardship and subjugation as they tried to make their lives better. As Judy Yung says in “Unbound Feet,” “Great-Grandmother’s secluded and hard-working life in San Francisco Chinatown was typical for Chinese women in the second half of the nineteenth century” (Yung 16). Chinese women were not afraid to work and suffer, but unfortunately, they suffered at the hands of their own families, too, and that was an enlightening part of this course that surprised and shocked me.

When Chinese first began immigrating to this country in the 1850s, it was mostly men who made the trip – they left their wives and families at home for a variety of reasons. Many Chinese women wanted to reunite their families, but they lived under such strict societal edicts that it was difficult to come to America. They were bound to the men in their lives, the men in their lives could dominate and control them, and indeed, society dictated that they do just that. Women were supposed to stay at home and take care of the house and family. They went uneducated, and had very few, if any, marital rights. Thus, they were not supposed to stray outside the home, and many of them never had the chance to join their families in far-off America, or “Gold Mountain.” Those who did manage to make it to this country found prejudice, poor living conditions, and were still under the thumb of their husbands while they struggled to learn about new ways and customs. These were strong and determined women, but they still were bound by their old customs. Yung continues, “Speaking no English, having no independent means of support, and insulated within Chinatown fro alternative views of gender roles, they continued to abide by the patriarchal values of their homeland, maintaining a subordinate role to men” (Yung 25). Sadly, this legacy of subordination still continues in some Chinese communities today. Many women are not as apt to stand up for their rights against their husbands. This was clear in the story of Flora Belle Jan, also chronicled by Judy Yung. Flora Belle was a modern Asian woman, who participated fully in American culture, graduated from college, and had a great future in front of her. Yet she followed her Chinese husband back to China, had several abortions because he would not be responsible about birth control, and ultimately died much too young because of health complications from her life with her husband. She was a modern American woman who still felt compelled by the ways of her ancestors to submit to her husband, even when she knew better. These feelings seem to be ingrained in many Asian women, and they do not die easily.

Another shocking aspect of the culture is the reliance on prostitution, especially child prostitution. This makes sense, considering women were seen as less than men, and as mere possessions by men. It is sad to think that women meant so little to the men and the families they served and loved, and sadder to think they would sell their own children into prostitution. Benson Tong writes, “Selling children for whom they could not provide seemed the preferred choice for many peasants” (Tong 40). It is simple to see why they would do this, when they could not feed or clothe the children, however, it is still a shocking and terribly sad process, and difficult to read about in our modern culture. Even more shocking, the Chinese government turned a blank eye on the practices of selling children, or kidnapping into prostitution, or even supported the practices. It is gratifying to know that not all these women passively accepted their fate. It is good that these women came to America, because they are just the kind of strong, vital women necessary to build a strong and vital community, and those who escaped from prostitution created good lives for themselves. Even worse, many of these women were forced to sell their bodies at night, while working in sweatshops during the day. It is difficult to understand how many of them survived, yet alone escaped to create lives of their own. Women were nothing in China then, and that saddens me, and makes me angry at the same time. Today, we must work even harder to prove our abilities, just to avenge our sisters who were treated so miserably, and lived such difficult lives.

I think perhaps one of the biggest blemishes on Asian-American history were the internment camps of World War II. It still pains me to think of how the Japanese were herded into camps in the middle of nowhere. They gave up their jobs, their possessions, and some of them even gave up their lives in the camps before they could return home. I have read “Farewell to Manzanar,” written by a woman who lived there as a teenager, and it is difficult to think what these people thought, and how they managed to endure the hardships and privations they faced in the camps. It is hard to imagine how Japanese women managed to hold their families even remotely together during these turbulent times, and it seems that Japanese families grew more apart during their stays in the camps, simply because of the living conditions.

Clearly, Asian women today face many important and lasting issues, just as they have in the past. These issues affect many women, such as career choices, moving up in their careers, marriage, husbands, and families. However, Asian women face even more of these issues, because they must not only surmount being a woman to gain success in their careers and in their personal lives, they must also surmount being minorities in a still very white society. Personally, I am happy I was born and live today, because I am not sure I could follow the dictates of men as easily as my ancestors did. I know that I still face many obstacles from society that I must surmount if I want to succeed in my chosen career, and in my personal life. I am just happy that there are many more opportunities open for me than there were for the first Asian women who immigrated to America. I know that my future, although still up in the air because I am in school, is still bright, and I am thankful that I do not have to contend with many of the problems that earlier immigrants to this country faced. I think that Asian-Pacific-Islander-American women like myself have many more opportunities than we had before, and that are families are becoming more accepting of us getting education, and creating exciting careers. I often think of Amy Tan, and how her family opposed her writing career, and wanted her to be a doctor. I am so grateful that she was strong enough to stand up to her family and fight their influence, or else we would not have had the pleasure and enjoyment of reading her novels. Women like Tan show what it is like to be Asian to the rest of the world, and without her, and women like her, I do not think Asian women would have made as many strides as we have.

Many of the writers we have read during this class have mentioned how difficult it is growing up between two cultures, and I think this is one of the main difficulties in growing up as an Asian-American girl in the United States. As a youngster, I wanted to be just like the white children around me, but I never could be quite like them. My mother and father were different, they ate different foods, and I even had different foods in my lunch box that set me apart from the others. I have always felt that distance, no matter how much I have tried to be like the other kids. I realize now that I am different, and that it is all right to be different, but that was a hard lesson growing up. To not fit in is probably one of the most difficult things a child can face, and it happens all the time in America to the children of immigrants. It is easy to talk about “celebrating your heritage,” but much more difficult to do when you are a child, and have no friends because of your skin color and your culture. Now, it is easier for me, but there are still barriers in our society, and I know that throughout my life, I will have to fight those barriers to succeed and to grow as a woman, as an American, and as an Asian.

A think, after considering what I have learned in this course, that I would like to research what I do not know about my own family history, and fill in the pieces of the puzzle. Before this class, I did not think much about my family’s past, other than to listen to the stories of my grand parents and their youth, and know that my mother and father were born in this country. I have decided that I will find out more about my ancestors, before they came to this country, and learn more about my heritage, so that I can pass this on to my children someday. I want them to have an appreciation of who they are, where they came from, and where they will go in the future.

In conclusion, I have always been proud to be an Asian-American woman. I am proud of my heritage, my strength, and my determination. However, completing this course has made me even more proud of my ancestry, after understanding how much it took for the Chinese to come to America, and how many hardships they faced along the way, and after they arrived here. Their journey has not been easy, and that makes me all the more fulfilled at my heritage. I will pass this varied history on to my children, and I will be honored to do so. This class has opened my eyes, and I do not plan to keep them closed again when it comes to the women of Asia who have helped build up their own lives and their culture in America.


Class booklet of handouts.

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