According to Espiritu, the social injustices and discrimination against Asian American women in the United States were widely contributed by racial, gender, ethnic, and national factors (1). He points out that the historical institutionalization of racism and sexism among the Asian American women in United States has adversely affected their lives. He notes that the institutionalization of oppression was promoted by structural immigration policies, which were based on racial and gender disparities. For instance, Asian American immigration discrimination was based on the enactment of National Origins Act in 1924. Espiritu points out that this law barred the entry of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian women into the United States (2).
Espiritu notes that the reign of Empress Tsu-his in China from 1898 to 1908, who was branded as “dragon lady” based on her cruelty and inhuman ways of ruling, continued to develop a negative perception of the Asian women (2). This in turn led to the establishment of National Origin Acts in the year 1924. The act allowed for the immigration and settlement of disproportionate number of Asian men in U.S. without their wives. He argues that the social injustice, mainly contributed by gender and nationality factors, continues to darken the life of Asian American women in U.S. as they flock in as immigrants.
According to Espiritu, the social injustices among the Asian American women have undermined the development and transformation of feminists among them (2). He points out that social injustices have hindered their participation in the society, which has in turn reflected badly on their lives. The life and writings of Michiyo Fukaya, a Japanese-American lesbian poet and activist, clearly illustrate such disturbing encounters. As one of the Asian women who managed to migrate to U.S., Fukaya found work in male operated businesses, which were mainly characterized by sexist practices. This did not only affect her working relationships and life, but it also resulted into Asian American women movement, which condemned the racial and gender based practices which had impacted negatively on women.
While addressing the role played by race and gender in shaping the lives of Asian American women, the paper analyzes the story of Michiyo Fukaya in relation to the historical and social context in which she grew up and lived. It shows how Michiyo Fukaya’s writing makes the painful silence of Asian American women vivid.
Impact of Racism and Sexism on Asian American Women
According to Espiritu, racism is an impending factor that continues to undermine the principal role of Asian American women (2). Ranging from anti-immigration to feminist laws and regulations, Asian American women were denied the opportunity of participating in the national forum. Fukaya confirms this noting that racism characterized by feminism took the centre stage of women’s movement (48). She points out that any Asian American woman who walked into the predominately white Americans Women conventions was either brutally beaten or the ‘truth’ was imposed on her so as to hinder her from participating. In her “The Stone House,” Fukaya represents difficulties in healing after the brutal attack on her and discrimination by the white women she had encountered (48). She notes that the scars from the brutal beatings, discrimination of her daughter, and the loss of her parents were such painful experiences that she could not recover after the incidents. She says that every time she stood to advocate for women’s rights, she was surrounded by affluent educated white women and their male supporters, who were trying to make her fear. However, she points out that this did not deter her from advocating for Asian Women’s rights.
Additionally, Fukaya notes that racism downplayed the Asian American women’s employment opportunities in average paying jobs, thereby resulting into illegal human practice (23). As Noh points out, Asian American women who migrated to the United State were employed as cheap laborers either as servants or as laundresses (87). He observes that Asian American women, just like their male counterparts, were denied employment opportunities for average paying jobs due to their color, nationality, and ethnic background.
In the “Untitled Poem”, Fukaya recounts the racist life her family was subjected to when she was still a child, which, as she stresses, is impossible to forget (20). According to her, their family relied on food stamp as her mother, who was the sole breadwinner, earned only about $200. She points out that at times, their family was left without a meal as her mother’s income could not adequately sustain them. She notes that her mother aimed at higher paying jobs but was discredited since she could not read and write. As a result, her mother poisoned herself. The silence pain caused by racism after her mother’s death could not be forgotten. It gave her a clear understanding of individualism without the negative impact of the power of racial and sexual objections (Noh 87).
According to Jo, the silence pain of Asian American women and their children caused by racism led to the establishment of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs (2). He points out that these programs were designed to train women how to read and write so as to enable them to obtain satisfying jobs. He notes that skilled and educated Asian American women developed economic security and independence, which helped them to sustain their families. Furthermore, he points out that most of the educated Asian American women became active human rights activists and advocated for female rights, especially those against racism. Moreover, he notes that due to their activism, the Asian American women have changed the falsified theory of feminism, which had negated the individualism impact of Asian American women. According to Espiritu, the feminist theory hypothesized that women could only move on in life and venture into better living standards if lifted and helped by others (5).
According to Jo, Asian American women have mainstreamed feminist theory by viewing race as integral to gender, thereby identifying ways of combating the two factors (3). He points out that the Asian American women have been able to construct their gender identity in relation to their race and vice versa, which assisted them in countering racism factors. For instance, Fukaya argues that brutal beating and discriminatory objections were not employed by white American females to maintain racial etiquette and socio-economic status, but that it re-inscribed the gender role among white Americans (25). Moreover, she points out that the racial and gender discrimination, especially among the lesbian and gay communities, was against Asian American women’s active involvement as they were viewed as ‘fragile sex objects’. She notes that this has given the Asian American women an opportunity of redefining their moral standards, especially in terms of enhancing their socio-economic status.
On the other hand, Fukaya notes that another factor that has negatively impacted on the Asian American women is sexism (23). As stated by Jo, sexism is discrimination against women based on their behavior, condition, and stereotypical roles in the society (2). He notes that the Asian American women were prejudiced based on their sexual orientation. He points out that the American male population believed that Asian American women were to refrain from strenuous activities which touched on their physicality and mentality so as to fulfill their womanly role. For instance, Asian American women were employed in cheap labor fields such as laundry so as to give them an opportunity to fulfill their woman family obligation (Fukaya 23).
According to Espiritu, the silence pain of Asian American women caused by sexism has made them active members of societies as they began to campaign against such practices (7). This has enabled them to develop recognition about sexism. He notes that Asian American women were only seen as sexual objects and, therefore, were either sexually abused or economically violated. Agreeing with these arguments, Fukaya notes that her sexual orientation subjected her to fear of being kidnapped and raped as that had become a common practice among the Asian American women (25). But as Jo points out, Asian American women have developed more concern in their sexual orientation so as to promote their moral image (3). Even though, Asian American women’s sexual appearance has made them form a large part of consumed advertising images in America, they have become more cautious about their sexual exposure (Jo 3). He notes that through their Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA), they campaign against activities and practices that impact negatively on their sexual orientation. For instance, AIWA organized a ground breaking campaign against fashion designer, Jessica McClintock, whom they criticized for designing clothes which portrayed the immoral nature of Asian American women.
It is evident from the Michiyo Fukaya’s story that most Asian American women continued to suffer in silence from racial and gender discriminations. The paper has noted the importance of Asian American women in developing clear understanding of the impact of racism and sexism on their life. It has pointed out that by addressing the silent problems such as racism and sexism, the disadvantaged groups can develop individualism that would enable them to become the sole determinants of their lives. Moreover, by doing so, people are able to become socio-economically independent, which will make them much less vulnerable to such silent problems, hence promoting better societies for their children.