The War on Asian Women and White Men

 

What year is it? 1980?

You’d think so, from the recent articles “analyzing” Asian marriage patterns. And of course, no conversation about the marrying habits of Asians can be complete without the touchstone being the rate of unions between Asian women and white men.

 

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article More Asians Marrying Within Their Race that set off a firestorm of angry reactions on the Internets, ranging from comments that this isn’t newsworthy, to criticisms that the reporter forms a flimsy  hypothesis that any marriage between two Asians is a union based on shared traditions (even if the partners are from different ethnicities and traditions, such as Indian and Chinese or Korean and Filipino). Then there were the suggestions that Asian men were finally gaining social currency to make them desirable spouses, instead of being systemically spurned by Asian women.

 

Just a few days earlier, former Los Angeles Times reporter David Haldane writes a first-person essay called “My Imported Bride”  for Orange Coast magazine about being an older white man who found a young Filipino wife — through an online international matchmaking site. He writes about how he left his marriage to his white wife of similar age and background, and how “in this post-feminist age, many women had priorities other than finding the man of their dreams.”

 

At SXSW last month, filmmaker Debbie Lum debuted her documentary Seeking Asian Female, which follows another divorced white man in his sixties as he marries a 30-year old woman from China. The film got lots of buzz and excellent reviews.

 

If you’re reading HapaMama, there’s a good chance that you are either Asian or married to someone who is.  You know, I love to read and think and talk about matters of ethnicity and pontificate from my couch about what makes people interact in the way they do. So I followed these topics with a lot of curiosity. But there’s something that left me feeling icky after reading these articles. First of all, any discussion of about yellow fever or mail-order brides, or docile cherry blossom geisha crap makes me bristle. I’m not here to bash on Asian men or to lament how oppressed I feel because of traditional patriarchy. As I thought about this, it’s not about one kind of marriage being better or worse than another.

 

What worries me about these discussion is that to the uninitiated eye,  Asian American women might be conflated with that Full Metal Jacket kind of stereotype. And I feel angry that the women in these narratives aren’t portrayed too sympathetically, or they are completely voiceless  – as in the case of Haldane’s Filipina bride. And it makes me upset that even in 2012, some types of interracial marriages are still seen as easy fodder for judgmental criticism, much of it coming from other Asians. Oh and another thing, why is it that in these conversations, marriages are reduced to… transactions? For better or for worse is not an easy undertaking, and we should all be thankful if we find a person we can spend our lives with.

 

What do you think? Have you ever been criticized for marrying someone of a different race?

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    As an Asian-American man, I can’t really speak to how it might feel to be an Asian-American woman facing those stereotypes. I do think there are strong stereotypes of Asian and Asian-American men, though, that do correspond with the idea of less “social currency.”

    I had heard about but not read the NYT article until now – it seems like the writer went for the cultural explanation when statistics offer a simpler one. More Asian-Americans = more Asian-Americans marrying each other. What I’d be more worried about is whether that’s also corresponding to more segregation, too.

    • says

      That’s a good point, about the possibility for more segregation. The cultural issues may be a factor, as well as the statistical ones, as well as American’s changing perspectives on Asians. It’s all interesting to think about… as long as you keep in mind that this is mostly speculation based on a small sampling of interviews. And the fact that there are a lot of different situations that are being lumped together. Also, one interesting thing is that someone on Twitter (a white woman married to an Asian man) commented that Japanese women asked her, “Why would you want to marry a Japanese man?”

      Thanks for chiming in, Gene!

  2. says

    First off, what a lovely wedding picture of you two! Secondly, I ponder about this, too. These articles make it sound like these unions are so calculated. How about plain old chemistry? Falling in love with someone no matter what their race is, and if it happens to be with a white male, so be it?

    • says

      Thanks, Bicultural Mama. That was 15 years ago! The suggestion of the calculatedness of it all is what irks me. There is a lot of psychoanalysis going on there.

  3. LG says

    I am black woman who is married to an Asian man, so you can imagine all of the stereotypes we fit into ! It is frustrating that our relationship is always trying to be placed into some social narrative about “larger” issues.

    • says

      You know, I was thinking the closest parallel to the Asian woman/white man level of emotion is the black man/white woman relationship. I remember seeing Jungle Fever in college and hearing for the first time what a sore spot that was for the black community. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. says

    Love the wedding picture! I recently discussed a similar topic with a co-worker who is in her 20s (in fact, her parents are my age, eek!). I told her that her generation is being raised without prejudices based on skin color and cultural biases, in fact, they are so far removed from these prejudices that they don’t even understand what the fuss is about. I know that’s a generalization, but it’s so much more true for today’s young people than for my generation, coming of age in the 80s.

  5. Joel says

    I’m an African American male (college student) who was lambasted by a former instructor who disliked me writing about black male/Asian female relationships. (A complaint was documented).

    Someone brought up the black male/white female relationship comparison to the white male/Asian female…

    Well, there are many relationships out there, and black men just don’t date white or black women…

    Yes, I do agree. We are in the 21st century…people should grow up.

    Fortunately, we do have the legal system or at least some means to document or complain when people (who are far behind the times in interracial relations) bring out their bigotry.

  6. Joel says

    I forgot to mention my former instructor was an Asian female (who happened to be married to a white man). Her comments, on my writings and stories was basically: “Why/How are these people together?” “What is the sexual reasons these people are together?”

    It’s pretty sad how some people think.

  7. says

    First of all, beautiful picture of you and your husband.
    Secondly, when my Irish American husband and I started dating we have had several experiences from really dumb people.
    1. Myth that Asian women are submissive: My husband’s co-worker asked him why was he dating an Asian woman? Was it because he liked submissive women? My husband almost choked with laughter and he told the idiot, “You should meet her and you tell me.”

    2. Myth that if a white guy married a Filipina, she must be a mail order bride: Same idiot as Myth 1 when we got engaged and other dumb a** idiots we have come across. “Dude, is she (meaning me) a mail order bride from Olongapo?” My husband would answer, “Dude, she is has a degree from UC Berkeley and a daughter of a diplomat. She has more class and education than you’re dumb ass!” Yes, that would shut them up.

    3. Myth that all Asians look alike: Yes, there are people who are REAL IDIOTS. At a wedding when my husband and I were newly dating, my husband’s friend introduced himself and said that he hasn’t seen me in a couple of years (my husband’s ex was also Filipina). I looked at him straight in the eyes and told him, “No, that was his other girlfriend. We just started dating a couple of months ago and I never met you before. You know us Asians we all look alike.” The guy didn’t know what to say.

    My husband and I laugh about our experiences and it has brought us closer. When my husband and I are together I would see white women giving me dirty looks. They assume that I am a mail order bride or I work as a domestic help or some lowly job or better yet is very submissive. If I get angry and worked up over dumb comments from dumb people who assume dumb things, then I would be a really angry Asian woman. My husband and I shut these kinds of people down and make them look dumb by making smart a** comments. There is no hate in our retorts but it makes them think about how stupid their comments are which makes them stupid.

    When my husband and I went on our first date, I found out his ex girfriend was Filipino. Alarm bells sounded and I just told him straight up, “Do you have an Asian fetish? If you are expecting me to be a nice submissive Asian woman, well you are barking up the wrong tree. We can end this dinner now and call it a night.” He started laughing and told me, “Baby, I am equal opportunity. I just like a woman who is beautiful, smart, independent, and funny.” It was the right answer and that is why I married him.

    Grace, I know we bristle over the dumb stereo types, and believe me, I do too. But I think a good come back for every dumb comment we come across shuts them down and they get it. Or, if they are really that dumb, they won’t get it and we won’t want to associate with people like that anyway.
    Thank you for writing this blog.

    • says

      Thank you for reading and sharing your comments, here. It’s a crazy thing isn’t it? At Berkeley, a friend told me how her roommate in the same sentence complained about racism against some groups, then went on to say Asian women were stealing all the white men. *jaw drop*

      A friend who grew up in a small Pacific Island shared some stories about the poverty and lack of opportunities there that gave me some insight and sympathy for Asian women who come over as “mail-order” (although I’m pretty sure all arrangements are made on the Internet now) brides. I won’t judge their reasons.

      What I have a big problem with is people extending these stereotypes to Asian American women who do not fit any of the circumstances. When there are areas where lots of different races together, and they are interacting as equals, there will be dating and marriages.

      And speaking of suspicious looks, I have gotten more second glances when for example, out to lunch with an older white male colleague, than with my husband. To the extent, that I felt necessary to say to the hostess, “My co-worker and I…”

  8. says

    P.s. My Filipino mom told me when I got engaged that my husband Patrick is man she always dreamt for a son in law. I asked her jokingly if she always dreamt of me marrying a white guy. She got angry and said that his color has nothing to do with it. She loves my husband because she has prayed that I marry somebody who treats me like a queen and loves me with all his heart. She prayed that I marry a man with a big heart, integrity, and a sense of humor. She said she got her wish when we got married. His color never came into equation.

  9. says

    Grace, I get that comment too! You are stealing the white man. Or he has yellow fever. Lol. I have always dated tall men so I get flak from tall women too. Did you ever get glares from tall women too? Maybe if they weren’t so bitter and sour they would find a man more easily. Nobody likes to date a green sourpuss.

    As for the mail order brides, I truly feel for them. My father was a diplomat and he would get phone calls in the middle of the night from women who ran away from their husbands. These men would beat them and abuse them that they rather face poverty again in the Philippines than live the life of terror with their husbands. My parents would get dressed and go pick them up and they stayed with us until my father could arrange the divorce and secure a passage for them. Our home was like a half way house and I heard their stories of abuse. They were wooed into coming over then a brief honeymoon period and then the abuse. They have no families to turn to so they called my dad. The previous diplomat would tell them to call them in the morning when the embassy opens but not my parents. I would wake up the next morning to see a guest at the breakfast table. That was how my parents roll.

    Grace, have you ever experienced being with your husband and another Asian man and they thought the Asian man was your husband?

    People are unbelievable aren’t they?

    • says

      That happens quite often if we are out with another couple! People think they’re going to seat me with the Asian guy and the my husband with the other wife. #Awkward.

  10. says

    Too funny. One time a hostess did that, I said, “Hey, I’m with the pale guy!” and all of us started laughing and the poor hostess was red in the face. Shame on her for assuming. I guess I just call them out as I see it. I’m too old to have patience anymore. Try it sometimes. It feels liberating.

  11. says

    It’s a shame that people and relationships are simply reduced to stereotypes and judged accordingly. I hope, in time, things will change for the better.

  12. says

    Hi. I lurk around here occasionally. =) I’m sad to say, well, to admit that I sometimes have a hard time with inter-racial couples. I am biracial myself, black and white. I identify as black and have married a white man so we believe our union to be “inter-racial.” My issues with it stem from my own parents problems, and all the hate that brought me growing up. There’s a lot of pain surrounding black men marrying white women, I’m assuming, the ways there may be for Asian men seeing Asian women marrying white men. (I really have no idea here, but I’m just wondering, considering how the dynamic has played out to make Asian women look like they are in the wrong). So, yeah it’s hard for me to see black men with white women…and I could literally list 15 reasons that make it difficult for me, which would be true regardless of who I married. Identifying as a black women I see the negative stereotypes that are out there for us: the angry black woman being on of the them, and I can only imagine how you have also endured the bitter end of many equally destructive stereotypes now adding the white man issue into the mix. For that, I’m sorry. =( I know it’s hard. I don’t pretend to understand the pain my Asian sisters feel. The dynamic is so different. I have a few Asian sisters on the journey with me, being honest and gently correcting me when I shame them accidnetally. =) (Which is the exact opposite value of my african-american sisters who want to be told the truth, in-your-face!) Anyway, I think I’m rambling here, I mostly wanted to comment b/c I wanted to both affirm that I see your pain and frustration, but also to acknowledge that it’s extremely complicated: the asian woman/white man dynamic being a fraction of the many ways inter-racial issues play out. One of my dearest Asian woman friends has a great blog in which she discusses a myriad of issues about being Asian American. Her name is Kathy Khang, you should check her out: http://morethanservingtea.wordpress.com/ She is also the author of the book, More Than Serving Tea. Blessings on your beautiful interracial marriage…

    • says

      Always nice to meet another Grace, and thank you for sharing your insight. Yes, the Asian woman-white man tension has a lot of parallels to the black man-white woman issue, although the specifics are different. Interracial marriage between Asians and whites (and it’s equally common to be AM-WF) is so common where I live that I haven’t thought about it being disapproved since college at Berkeley, where there were ongoing newspaper columns and publications focused on the phenomenon. I’m certainly not advocating that white men are better than Asian men, just that all kinds of relationships can be rooted in love and respect, just as there are plenty of unhealthy relationships between partners of the same race.

      I really appreciate your words of encouragement. I’m probably coming across as the Angry Asian Woman here, so thank you for indulging me. And yes, I know Kathy Khang. She rocks! And so do you!

  13. says

    I’m sure we’re judged because I might “appear” to look noticeably younger (@53 yrs.?) against my German-Canadian partner @69. My hair hasn’t greyed yet (and I hope not to succumb to dyeing it.)

    But far from a trophy looking Asian woman.

    One of many things he and I do share…is actually some similar family backgrounds…draised by immigrant parents, poor, etc. He immigrated to Canada when he was 7, shortly after WWII. So already he has a feel for what it means to be immigrant, to be poor….I’m Canadian born but know precisely how an immigrant feels since I didn’t learn English until kindergarten.

    I do know of a sad story of a bright Filipino university grad women who was a picture bride and married a white guy. I hired her for my dept. and shortly found out that she was terrified of her new hubby. He stalked her..even at work. She wanted to avoid him. I think he was hitting her.

    I cannot be too judgemental about picture bride transacted marriages. You see my mother was a picture bride. My parents corresponded for a few months while he was here in Canada after immigrating as a young man for 7 yrs. They married a few days after her plane landed in Toronto from China.

    The big difference here, is that my mother was very fortunate: she married a kind man.

  14. says

    Guys, I grew up in the Los Feliz area of LA and attended Marshal High where there were 5 black students and the rest was nicely divided between Filipinos, Latinos, Armenian and White — of course we mixed — it was a given. I had no idea of the stigma that existed outside my school confines. My sister dated a black guy and dated the white girls — my parents didn’t object…not much anyway.

    This topic is so interesting to my wife and I (a mixed couple) that I convinced the local NPR station to host an event on mixed couples. Anyone interested in coming and sharing their stories? Please join us, it will be so much fun! Sorry to share a link here, but how else could I do this: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150819520337274&set=a.10150577647072274.384078.44214572273&type=1&theater

    Thanks guys.

    • says

      No problem, Eddie. That’s really interesting. If I lived in LA, I would totally check it out. Hopefully some of my So. Cal readers would like to go. Thank you for reading and stopping by to comment!