Monday, September 16, 2019

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H. Korean Picture Brides

As was the custom for Japanese immigrants, picture brides were also a component of the Korean community that immigrated to Hawaii between 1903 and 1924. Korean immigrants immigrated to the United States to work in Hawaiian sugar plantations in the early 1900s. As had been true for the Chinese and Japanese immigrants before them, men first came alone. However, the sugar plantation managers considered the Korean bachelors a problem. Hoping that the men would settle down and work more steadily if they were married, the Korean government approved the emigration of young women who would agree to marry after exchanging pictures with potential husbands. As a result, almost 1,000 women came to Hawaii as picture brides between 1910 and 1924.

During the early period of Asian immigration to the United States, Asians were seen as a threat to American society and were subsequently excluded through regulation. This greatly affected Asian women, who were generally viewed as prostitutes, and therefore a corrupting force. The notion of Asian women as prostitutes originated with Chinese immigration, but was reinforced during subsequent waves of Japanese and Korean immigration. Many women who were not prostitutes, such as second wives, concubines, and picture brides, were nonetheless perceived as prostitutes because they did not fit in the American framework of marriage, as defined by consent, free choice, and monogamy. The virulent attacks levied by lawmakers, journalists, doctors, and the American public against the evils of prostitution ultimately paved the way for state and federal laws that precluded the immigration of prostitutes. Since all Asian immigrant women were suspected of prostitution unless they could prove otherwise, regulation to exclude prostitutes ultimately affected all Asian women and prevented a large number of them from immigrating.

The view of Asian women as prostitutes and sexual slaves was drilled into the national consciousness and ultimately fed into the perception of Asian women as inherently sexual and subservient. This perception contributed to, and was bolstered by, the connection between prostitution and American military occupation in Asian countries.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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