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GOLDSEA | IDENTITY

YOU'VE COME A WONG WAY, BABY!
It's been a long painful journey from China Mary, Susie Wong and Feminist Fannie to today's confident Asian American woman.
by Joanna Hashimoto

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n our own lives each of us have probably observed a personal evolution as an Asian American woman. Undoubtedly each of us had our own unique trials and triumphs. Yet after speaking with a number of friends about their experiences, I was struck by the larger similarities in the stages of our collective evolution.
"Criminal tongs made huge profits by kidnapping Chinese women and bringing them to the U.S. to work in brothels."
     In our childhood we were embarrassed and ashamed of the myriad differences between our own families and that of our white friends. We cringed every time a grandparent addressed us in a language our playmates found strange. We were so bent on fitting in that we hardly dared think about our identities.
     Then came adolescence when we felt that we had succeeded in escaping the grosser embarrassments of a bi-cultural childhood and secured a place among peers. Our racial differences, we were relieved to find, didn't make us non-entities to members of the opposite sex. That is, until we came to the uneasy realization that more often than not it was precisely because of our difference that some boys found us attractive.
     You remember college. We were positively arrogant at having survived the tribulations of growing up and having proven our fitness to move up into the intellectual realm. We were bent on proving our worldliness, our open-mindedness, our independence, our intellectual sophistication. We questioned and denounced everything our parents took for granted. We saw no reason why we shouldn't enjoy the respect of everyone else on earth‹and right now. Never mind what we really felt or wanted in our heart of hearts. That always gave way to what we thought we should want.
     And now we're adults, independent, responsible for our actions and for our own happiness. We have come to appreciate and enjoy our femininity. We are proud of our Asian heritages and are eager to pass it down to our children. We regret all the years we spent being less than proud of everything we are. Most of all, we feel a deep sense of gratitude and admiration for our mothers and grandmothers for having had the courage to lay the groundwork for us.
     These four stages of our personal evolutions correspond remarkably well with the stages of the evolution of Asian women in America. Each stage reflects a maturing of both American attitudes toward Asians and women and of our own attitudes about our own power and responsibility. Both processes were strongly influenced by global events, media images, economics and politics. It's impossible to identify every factors that figured in the evolution of the Asian American woman, but one thing is certain: we would not enjoy the envied position we enjoy today without the strength, perseverance and resourcefulness of those who came before us.




Picture Brides and Prostitutes,1890-1945

he very first arrival of Asians in California dates back to 1840 when two Chinese men and a Madame Ah Toy arrived in San Francisco. There are two stories about her. One holds that she was an intellectual who gave tea parties for cultured men. The other, that she charged miners an ounce of gold for a peek of her lingeried figure.
     Large-scale Asian immigration began in 1849, drawn by the same dream that brought Americans by the thousands over the plains in covered wagons. Gold had been discovered in a wild frontier land called California, and the joyful cries of "Eureka" were heard around the world.
     Most of the early Asian arrivals were Chinese though a few Coreans and Japanese also caught the gold bug. Like the early Italian immigrants before them, virtually all were men who came in hopes of making a quick fortune and returning to the family left behind. By 1851 25,000 Chinese were living in California. PAGE 2

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