Dr. Ji-Yeon Yuh Interview

00:02 I’m Ji-Yeon Yah, associate professor of history and director of Asian American studies at Northwestern University and during World War Two, American soldiers were stationed overseas in Europe and in Asia and particularly in Europe, and they began to get engaged with and marry local women and the War Brides Act of 1945 was specifically designed to allow these soldiers to bring back their fiances and their wives. And in fact the war brides. It also allowed for boatloads of women two come to the United states, uh, to meet their husbands and their new in- laws and or to meet just their in-laws if their new husbands were still stationed overseas. And these boats came in primarily from Great Britain in 1945, Asians were prohibited from immigrating to the United States. And the only country that was allowed to send immigrants to the United States was China. And that was provisionally. It was a very small quota per year. And that was allowed only beginning in 1941 because China was an ally of the US in World War Two.

01:15 But Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese were not allowed into the United States at all. And the War Brides Act did not cover them in this became a point of contention, um, after 1945 in particular for American soldiers stationed in Japan because they began to socialize with and fall in love with the local women in Japan and they want to marry and bring them over and they felt that they were being discriminated against. They said, why is it that our comrades in Europe can bring over their fiances and their wives? But those of us stationed in Japan cannot. And so congress passed a series of exceptions to the war brides act amendments, which gave basically a grace period saying from x month to x month, soldiers in Japan can bring over their wives of Asian ancestry to United States despite the prohibition against doing so. This happened in 1947. (When did it end?) Officially never. In 1952, the US Immigration and naturalization laws were changed.

02:35 And uh, that law for the first time since 1924 eliminated the prohibition against migration from the United States, I’m sorry, against migration from Asia. And also overturned the US naturalization law that prohibited Asian immigrants from naturalize as us, and it was only after the 1952 Act that woman from Asia could enter the United States as wise of American citizens. But that was because women from Asia, men from Asia could enter simply as immigrants under other categories. Um, I really haven’t seen any research done on that, but I do know that there were a number just anecdotal sort of cases where they couldn’t come over. And one of the brides that I had interviewed, um, she was Korean and her fiance was transferred to Japan during the Korean War and she followed him to Japan and somehow managed to get a visa to enter the United States. But that was during one of the, uh, amended sort of grace periods, the amendments allowed.03:59 And she talked about how she really had to think carefully because she was thinking, what’s the point of dating this guy if I can’t marry him and be with him in his own country. So that was a real issue for her. Um, and it was an issue that the Korean war overose, because that point she felt that she didn’t want to be in, uh, Korea, she didn’t want to have to deal with the war and so she was going to do everything she could to make her way to the United States with her fiance. And she said that she was very lucky that this grace period, you know, popped up, popped up in 1951. (How many?) Um, yes, there’s been about a 70,000 Japanese war brides who came in. Um, there’s been about 100,000 Korean War brides that have come in there then. Then there are also Filipino war brides and Vietnamese war brides.

05:00 But I want to take a moment here to talk about the difference in terminology. Technically speaking, a war bride is a woman who comes in under the war brides act. I, so technically so majority of Asian war brides I not war brides at all. They would better be called military brides. Well, I created that term military brides because I was looking at the history of Korean woman marrying American soldiers and you know, realizing that first of all, we use the term war bride to talk about a woman who married a US soldier in time of war, but for South Korea, that time of war was only three years and after that it wasn’t really a time of outright war was a time of military tension and military, a huge military presence in South Korea, but not actual outright war and because it was over decades, that hundred thousand Korean woman who came to the United States as military brides came from 1950 all the way to currently right now they’re coming over at estimated rate of a thousand or more per year.

06:13 Okay, so the hundred thousand Korean woman who came to the United States as so called war brides or what I call military brides began coming in 1950 and are still coming today in 2006 at an estimated rate of about 100,000, about a thousand a year. The other thing that makes it kind of interesting is that if we talk about Filipino war brides, for example, the United States hasn’t been really at war in the Philippines for decades. Um, there’s never been a Filipino war. The Philippines has just been the site of military battles during the Spanish-US War and World War Two. So for the Philippines, the concept of war bride doesn’t really fit that well. It’s much better to call the military prides the US military has been in the Philippines for decades because the Philippines was a colony and us men have been married, actually Filipinos since the United States has been a colony and after 45, um, that really increased in numbers because the number of American soldiers stationed in the Philippines has increased.

07:27 That really isn’t a whole lot of research done on war brides and a lot of people don’t really have a good grasp of what a war bride is. So in terms of the term military brides being used elsewhere, it’s usually used elsewhere when somebody’s calling my work. I’m glad it’s perfect. It’s absolutely the right term to use. I think. Well, first I’d like to start thinking about the military brides as immigrant women. Um, they’re not just here as wives of American soldiers, they don’t just simply assimilate and disappear into these mainstream American families. In many cases, they either try to do, make connections with existing, uh, immigrant communities in the United States and in many cases, they also serve as sort of the beginning of a daisy chain of migration. Um, under the 1965 Immigration Act, people can sponsor their family members for immigration visas and military brides have done so at a very high rate.

08:34 So for example, a woman will bring over, um, her siblings and her parents, her siblings will bring over their spouses, their spouses will bring over their siblings and their parents. Those, uh, siblings will bring over their spouses. And so on and so on. In my research, I ran across Korean military brides who could count, they knew of more than two dozen people, um, who had come to the United States, uh, as immigrants through them and in, you know, in some cases that’s all they do the sponsorship. But in other cases, because the brides had been here earlier because they have a more greater knowledge and familiarity with the United States because they have contacts in various sectors of American society through their husband and in-laws, they often serve as guides to the newly arrived relatives, the new immigrants help them get housing, help them get jobs, help them put their children in schools, help them do with, uh, the ins and immigration papers and so on and so forth.

09:49 So they actually play a very significant role in Asian immigration and also in Asian immigrant communities. Yes, absolutely. And here’s one of the things is that most of most conventional Asian immigrants will go to a existing Asian immigrant, enclaves, communities, large metropolitan areas. Military brides tend to go everywhere. They go to suburbs, small towns, rural areas. They go to Appalachia, they go to the American south west, they go to Montana because that’s where their husbands and their in laws are in those places. They often tend to be the only sort of representative of Asians have Asian-americans of Asian immigrants. And beginning in the 80s when schools began to have an interest in diversity and multiculturalism and began to hold international affairs or multicultural affairs. Military brides began to be called on to display and represent their home cultures for this mainstream American audience.

11:09 (Are there stereotypes of military brides?) Yes, there is, um, but actually not for military brides in general, but to Asian military brides specifically that they are former prostitutes.

11:22 There is a stereotype about Asian military brides, that they’re all former prostitutes and that they married the American soldier simply for social mobility to escape a backward poor country, um, and to come to the United States to pursue the American dream. So the Asian military bride is figured as a former prostitute and a gold digger. And the US military service men is figured a dupe. Somebody who was gullible and, uh, was duped into marrying this scheming, conniving Asian woman.

12:02 (Why?) Well, two reasons. One has to do with the proliferation of a specific prostitute districts for the US military in Asia, in Japan, in South Korea, and the Philippines. Every, every US military base has next to it, a camp town in which won the two primary industries are selling goods and services to the US military personnel and prostitution for the US military personnel. And because of that, uh, both the majority of population in those Asian countries and the military as a whole sees these Asian, Asian military brides as having come from those camp towns as being former prostitutes.

13:02 The second reason is that there remains an image in the United States that Asia is this war torn, ravished devastated area, economically poor, uh, culturally, socially backwards, and therefore who wouldn’t want to escape? They could. And so put those two together and you get this image of the Asian American or of get you get this image of the Asian woman as a gold digger, a seeking to really dig her nails into some gullible American soldier. It was really hard to get to talk with them. Yes. When I was doing the research for my book on Korean military brides, I found that it was very difficult to approach the woman. Um, they were accustomed to being ostracized and, uh, shown contempt by other Koreans because of the stereotype and they were also, there had been recently a couple of documentaries in South Korea about cre military brides, which they felt were negative and showed only the negative aspects of Korean military pride life.

14:16 And so when I approached them, their attitude in the beginning was, well, who were you and aren’t you going to have the same stereotypes about us that other Koreans do? So I really, I spent a lot of time explaining where I was coming from explaining, um, what I was doing, what my research was and what my perspective on Korean military brides was all about, which was that first of all, they were not all prostitutes. They were not all gold diggers. That they had played an important historical and ongoing role in Korean immigrant communities. And that what I wanted to do was to bring all of that to light and to show people that there are stereotypes about Korean military brides were not correct. And so that, you know, eventually that got around and I was able to gain greater access to military brides.

15:13 Throughout the course of my research. I spoke with more than 150 military brides about their life, their experiences and their thoughts and so forth. And some of them themselves would bring up this issue of the stereotype. So they would say a number of them was date. Things like, I know the stereotype is out there and so I do everything I can to combat it. Right? So I know that people think of us as being former prostitutes and loose, immoral woman. So I make sure that I look like exactly what I am, which is a wife, a homemaker and a mother. So they were very aware of the stereotype and did a lot to try to combat it.

15:53 Um, there was one woman who had gone from military base to military base following her husband and she said that wherever she went, she always cornered those young military brides who dressed in young casual fashions and said, look, you can’t do that. You are not an unmarried single woman who can go around wearing flashy earrings and short skirts because of that stereotype. You have to dress like a wife and mother, which is what you are. And so they will also educate among themselves and tell other women know that they had to dress in a more conservative manner, that they had to be aware about their self image and how that reflected on all of them as a group. So there are very much aware of this.

16:49 (Where there prostitues?) Actually, that’s true and not true of the women that I interviewed. Uh, there were several who talked about their past as prostitutes to it quite in detail. Um, and one of them is, um, uh, is profiled in my book and she talks about how she was duped into prostitution. That’s what happened a lot in the 60s and 70s. A girls coming up from the countryside looking for work in big cities, especially in this whole would be sort of taken by these fake employment agencies. Kidnapped, literally by these fake employment agencies, promised jobs as secretaries or as domestics or live-in nannies and would be taken to a motel, given a meal, raped, and then sold to a brothel in a camp town. And this is what happened to one of these women. And she told me a lot about that and how she had to deal with that. Um, and she spent years as a prostitute in camp towns and eventually got married in United States.

18:02 Overall, the research seems to show that the marriages were less successful than what you might call a conventional marriage. So a different research studies have shown very high divorce rates. Uh one study showed a divorce rate as high as 80 percent. In my own research, the majority of women I met were divorced and um, many of the ones who were currently in stable a marriage relationships, this was either second or even their third marriage.

18:47 So there is a hight rate of divorce. Well, a couple of different factors. You know, marriage itself is difficult and the rate of divorce in the United States has increased steadily over the years. So that’s one factor, but also the soldiers who married tend to be young. They’re in their early twenties. They don’t really have a lot of experience with human relationships or with building a family. Military life is hard. You get bounced around a lot. It’s stressful. And then there’s the cultural aspect of it all. Um in Korea. A Korean woman, uh, appears to be an asset. She’s helpful. She’s fun. She, you know, she serves the husband well in terms of getting, of, you know, serving as a guide to Korea. Um, it makes his life easier. She seems competent and she is competent because she’s in her home country.

19:50 But when he brings her to United States, suddenly he finds that if she can’t drive a car, she can’t read directions. She can’t go to the bank, she can’t go the grocery store. She doesn’t know how to enroll kids in school. She can’t go to the doctor. She can’t see the doctor if the baby’s sick or why the baby’s sick. And suddenly he has to do everything. And in most cases, the husband who ends up having to do everything is a husband who himself may not know how to approach a doctor, how to enroll a child in school, how to open a bank account, doesn’t know how to, you know, keep house. So he himself doesn’t have these basic life skills, he can pass it onto his wife. And so suddenly she becomes a burden, right? An aesthetic level, a woman who appeared to this guy to be attractive in Korea in some cases no longer seems attractive and that because now in the states he is surrounded by women have its own ethnicity, he is surrounded by other images of women.

20:55 And a woman who we thought was very attractive in Korea suddenly ends up looking to him like just another Asian woman. So there is this issue of a racialized aesthetic about what constitutes feminine beauty. Yeah. So, well, other factors that make a marriage difficult are that between the couple. There’s often a, not only cultural differences, but also language communication barriers. The husband can speak Korean and the woman’s um, can only speak a limited amount of English. So when they have a conflict, they can’t really talk about it and work it out. So that’s one issue. Another issue also is that there ends up being frustrated on both sides in terms of demands regarding adjustment. So the husband and the inlaws will demand a certain amount of assimilation to American culture. I’m doing things the way that they think things ought to be done and the woman for her part will wonder, well, why does things have to be done that way.

22:04 And besides, it takes me a long time to figure out how to do things the way that they want me to do it. Um, it takes time for me to adjust. Their demands are just too much. I can’t deal with it. And so all of this comes together and things don’t work out. And it’s pretty common, especially for, for the women who arrived earlier in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s, it was very common for the woman to have very difficult experiences upon arrival to have very rocky marriages and the marriages would end up in divorce. I’m in just a few years and a lot of the women that I spoke to also really didn’t want to talk about that time period either and it took a lot of time to get to know them and to get them to talk about this, but the other aspect of this also is that even when the marriage fails, it’s not that common for the woman to return to Korea.

23:11 There’s not much for her to return to in most cases, particularly for those barriers in the early years. In the early decades, the family, the woman’s family is opposed to marriage, and so when she marries and leaves, she often feels that she has been disowned by her family and in some cases she has. She indeed has been explicitly disowned by her family. So that’s one reason. The other reason is that the majority of the women who meet and marry the American soldiers have come from the lower classes of Korea. So these are poor women. They’re often fairly uneducated women. They go back to Korea as divorced as particularly as former wives of foreigners. They have no prospects. They have no job prospects and they certainly have no marriage prospects. So if they were to go back to Korea, how would they live? How would they make a living there? There were, there was no opportunity for them left in Korea.

24:21 So they stay in the United States, um, and they work in whatever kind of jobs they can get. Um, some of them do remarry. And the ones who remarried most often remarry another American. No, there really isn’t much of a distinction, um, except that they have, they are probably the least researched of all the Asian military brides. But, um, during the Korean War, a already a Vietnam, Southeast Asia was being used as a, a place for, for soldiers to go. Um, and during the Vietnam War in particular, there was a lot of, uh, sort of socialization between the American soldiers and Vietnamese woman. Um both a sort of consensual socialization on both parts as well as forest forest being either a rape or, um, some kind of coerced prostitution. And that’s similar to what happened in the Philippines in Japan and in Korea.
New Speaker: 25:49 (How many?) The numbers, I believe it’s about 30,000. Yes, Vietnamese military brides and their, you know, they cover the shortest time span of few years in the sixties and seventies and then it’s just completely stopped because. So right. There was no military presence and, and nobody could get into or out of Vietnam.

26:19 Well, it appears that this type of marriage is decreasing in numbers in Asia as the permanent military presence in Asia is decreasing. So that’s one thing. It doesn’t, unless United States enters another war in Asia or for some reason really dramatically increases it’s true presence in Asia. It doesn’t look like the military bride phenomenon is going to increase in size anytime soon. And in Japan, yes we do. Yes we do. And so I’m not so much in Japan, but in Korea there remains a steady flow of military brides, United States and the outlook for them. One thing I think is that the class and education levels of military brides in South Korea is increasing, so beginning in the 90s, uh middle class women and women who graduated from college have had various opportunities to meet and mingle with US soldiers and some of them have married US soldiers and that’s different from the past where it has been exclusively lower class woman who have married American soldiers and this has to do not so much with a more acceptance of this kind of marriage, but rather that the soldiers are broadening their exposure to Korean society.

28:02 So in the past, soldiers would be exposed primarily to people in the neighborhoods around the bases, um, the shopkeepers and the shopkeeper’s daughters, for example, to women who took jobs at the base and these women tended to be from the lower class and the working classes, but now the soldiers are having opportunities to go to college campuses in Korea and to become sort of, you know, friends and instructors have English language clubs in Korea. And then through these clubs, soldiers meet a middle class Korean woman and university educated Korean woman. Yeah. Um, there’s two things I think that if we look at the history of Asian military brides, I think it really brings home to us the impact that US military intervention overseas has had on Asian immigration and that to a large extent the story of Asian immigration and it states is not simply one of, you know, searching for better opportunities and looking for, looking to pursue the American dream, but really one of having some kind of US military intervention presence in your country, the disruption of that presence and what that does, what effect that has on a immigration to the United States. So the role of the US military and US military interventions in Asia with Asian immigration United States I think is very important.