5. Housewives, Men’s Villages, and Sexual Respectability: Gender and the Interrogation of Asian Women at the Angel Island Immigration Station
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5 Housewives, Men’s Villages, and Sexual Respectability Gender and the Interrogation of Asian Women at the Angel Island Immigration Station Jennifer Gee When Matsuho Tsune arrived at the Angel Island immigration station in 1910, she confronted a brief but pointed interrogation about her intended role as a married woman in America. Matsuho had worked as a schoolteacher in Japan, but she asserted that she now intended to perform “simply household duties.” Deemed a housewife joining a husband who could support her financially, Matsuho gained entry the next day.1 Chinese immigrant Lee Shee, arriving in 1914, encountered numerous questions designed to ensure that she was the wife of a U.S. resident merchant. Her interrogation, which included minute details about her husband’s village in China, proved more difficult than the interrogations typically faced by her male counterparts. At the end of her examination , Lee’s identity as a merchant’s wife was confirmed by the lack of discrepancies between her testimony and that of her husband as well as by her appearance as a “respectable ” woman.2 Matsuho and Lee claimed different countries of origin, spoke different languages, and were categorized under distinct U.S. government immigration regulations. At the Angel Island immigration station,however,their experiences merged.Both women’s eligibility for entry was influenced profoundly by prevailing standards of women’s proper roles and behavior in early twentieth-century American society. Matsuho and Lee arrived at the Angel Island immigration station during the initial years of its operation. Established in 1910, the station served as a major site of immigrant screening on the West Coast of the United States until its destruction by a fire in 1940. For thirty years, the station functioned as a detention and interrogation center for immigrants of various national origins, including individuals from China, Japan, Korea, and India. Upon docking in San Francisco, arriving immigrants took a ferry to Angel Island. There, each immigrant underwent interrogations by two immigration inspectors . An interpreter translated questions and responses, while a stenographer recorded the exchange.At the end of the interrogations, the inspectors decided whether to admit or deny entry to the applicant. Studies of the Angel Island immigration station have provided important insights on the establishment of the station and the living conditions faced by detained immi90 grants. In particular, the discovery in 1970 of Chinese poetry etched on barrack walls has inspired a focus on the experiences of Chinese immigrants at the station. These studies, drawing from barrack poetry translations and oral histories, portray the station as a site of anti-Chinese racial discrimination.3 This chapter examines transcripts of immigrant interrogations conducted at Angel Island in order to investigate the actual process of immigrant screening. Such an approach sheds light on the specific way in which immigration officials questioned, evaluated, and made the critical decisions to admit or exclude arriving immigrants. The interrogation transcripts of Asian immigrants of Chinese as well as non-Chinese national origin reveal that race was one of many overlapping concerns and ideologies used to screen new arrivals.4 Foremost among these was the infusion of gender into the interrogation process. The enforcement of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907–1908 Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan (discussed below), for example, brought differential treatment to Asian immigrant women and men. Central to immigration officials’ decisions to admit or exclude Japanese and Chinese women were concerns about women’s labor, domesticity, identities, and sexual morality. The history of the Angel Island immigration station cannot be encapsulated as a gender-neutral “Asian” or “Chinese” experience, for early twentieth-century immigration restriction represented far more than a racial story.5 Women Going to Men: Picture Brides, 1910–1920 Inspector Clendenin: Where and to whom are you going? Nagao Fusako: To my husband, in Salinas, California. Inspector: Where and how did you marry him? Nagao: In November, 1911, by photograph. . . . Inspector: What do you expect to do in the United States, if admitted? Nagao: Keep house for my husband. . . . Inspector (to husband, Nagao Sakaichi): If this woman is admitted, to be your wife, what do you intend she shall do in the United States? Nagao: Keep house for me, as my wife. —Hearing of picture bride Nagao Fusako, Angel Island, 19136 From 1910 to 1920, thousands of Japanese women immigrated to the United States as picture brides.7 An adaptation of traditional arranged marriage, the picture bride practice arose as one of the ways in which Japanese immigrant men in...



Subject Headings

  • Pacific Islander American women -- History.
  • Asian American women -- History.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • Pacific Islander American women -- Social conditions.
  • Asian American women -- Social conditions.
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