It's not just the hunting and gathering--the methods and challenges of location, identification, collection, and re-representation--but the politics of archives that I faced as I curated my first cyber exhibit, "Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance" for the National Women's History Museum. This exhibit, which can be found in its entirety at http://www.nwhm.org/Chinese/1.html, depicts the lives of Chinese American women during their first one hundred years in the United States.(1)
From the research I had done for my book Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, I knew that the "archives"--that liminal but highly material space--would likely deliver documents that exposed violence against Chinese women. There, I would find the mass purges of the first Chinese Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, buttressed by cartoons, photographs, and sensational journalism. I would find representations of a national policy that prevented most Chinese women from entering the United States. And, as I expected, in the archives I uncovered slavery, violence, and burlesque. But within the ships' logs, newspaper accounts, habeas corpus actions, and immigration files, Chinese female immigrants' own telling seemed to be mostly silenced. I was searching for the voices and self-representations of the first Chinese American women. Could I find them within these damaging images and nativist records? How could I locate images of Chinese American women that resisted the legislative and violent logic of ethnic cleansing of the three hundred pogroms?
Some of these first Chinese American women were, in a sense, buried alive in national archives, local county historical societies, medical records, ships' logs, government documents, and clipping files--the usual places. Ultimately, it was by hanging out--talking, sharing resources, telling and retelling this history--that I stumbled upon their stories and found their images. For example, a civil rights lawyer and parent at my daughter's school put me in touch with a police officer who shared his precinct's internal records of early Chinese women and men. At our annual block party, I chatted with a neighbor who sold antique toys; he contacted his cyber colleagues to locate an antique cap gun from the 1880s that mechanically mimed a Chinese purge. The sound engineer at a PBS shoot talked about how his tribe hid Chinese miners during the purge from Eureka, California, and revealed that he was a biracial descendant from that troubled moment.
All of us who dig in the archives are nontraditional detectives. We all believe in informed serendipity in the archives. But as I review my four full file cabinets and my boxes upon boxes of documents, images, short stories, maps, engravings, letters, and photographs, I realize that hanging out has been a very good form of historical methodology.
ALL THE USUAL PLACES
By law Chinese women were not supposed to have even been in the United States. Initially, I was concerned that I would not find documents and representations of early Chinese American women. My goal was to locate records, images, court cases, legislation, and artifacts that were produced at the time when national policy prevented most Chinese American women from entering the United States, when Congress allowed only the wives of Chinese merchants to enter because with little bound feet they could not leave the house and cause trouble at the time when elected officials and vigilantes worked hand in hand to drive Chinese immigrants out of three hundred towns across the Pacific Northwest (Forty-Third Congress). Once I began looking for archives in all the right places, I found the hidden images and photographs of these women. For example, Chinese friends soon shared dozens of studio photographs of their grandmothers that clearly establish Congress's failure to deliver ethnic cleansing.
Still, and paradoxically, in government, legal, and medical records and the holdings of county museums and local libraries, Chinese American women are present even among records that proclaim their absence. This absence is explained both by the legislation that intended to prevent their entry and remove the Chinese already here, and by the violence in towns across the Pacific Northwest, where the Chinese were rounded up and driven from towns--in wagons, on small steam ships and fishing boats, by railroad, and on foot. During these pogroms, documented in newspapers and court cases, Chinese women--women unable to manage the forced march from Tacoma with bound feet, women stranded in warehouses at the Eureka docks, women fleeing slavery in San Francisco, women on the run from vigilante violence in Seattle--did not stop to write their stories, to post letters, or to send photographs home.
Where would I find invisibility in our usual ponds and puddles of public archives--police jotters, census rolls, wills, and marriage registrars--the documents that prove Chinese women were prohibited from testifying in court against a white person, prohibited from owning property, banned from legal marriage, and banned from public education. Facing rapid deportation, where would they have recorded their histories? How would I find the footprints of women who entered the country illegally and hid in the segregation and seclusion of Chinatown?
Most particularly, I feared I could not locate archives, images, or recorded memories of ninety-five percent of the first Chinese American women--the prostitutes kidnapped from China and sold in San Francisco's slave dens. Where would I find the stories and images of women silenced by captivity and prostitution, women whose histories were erased by abuse, venereal disease, starvation, and early death? Would the archives have preserved evidence of the mui nui, or slave girls, brought to serve the Chinese merchants?
As I researched and curated the exhibit for the National Women's History Museum, I realized that traditional archives would reproduce the ideology that formed many of them in the first place. The first Chinese women were brought to the United States in the 1830s in order to be exhibited. Orientalism, the racial ideology that marked Chinese women, also recorded them. Orientalism hinges on the pictorial, the spectacle, and the use of the visible to empower the viewer. Photographs of prostitutes, of women with bound feet, and of merchants' wives with elaborate and intricate coiffures emerged in collections of all sorts.
My eldest daughter, a theater producer, pointed me to the Theater Collection of the Museum of the City of New York, where I found evidence of the first Chinese woman known to visit the United States; she foretells the long history of entrapment and burlesque. According to the New York Times, in 1834 Nathaniel and Frederick Came docked their boat, The Washington, in the New York harbor. Inside was an assortment of "treasures" from China, including a teenage girl, "Julia Foochee Ching-chang King." (2) During her first three weeks in New York, the Carne Brothers--traders by profession--renamed and advertised her as Afong Moy. On 6 November 1834, they announced the exhibition of a "Chinese Lady." For twenty-five to fifty cents, New Yorkers could buy a ticket to Peak's Museum and view a Chinese girl "nineteen years of age, four feet ten inches in height, dressed in her national costume, and her feet were but four inches in length, as a result of her having worn iron shoes throughout her childhood." Between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., they could witness Afong Moy speak in Chinese and use chopsticks, which were also for sale in the exhibit shop. An interpreter, Atung, was in the room to help ticketholders question her. Afong Moy remained seated throughout these viewings, save every few minutes when she was ordered by Atung to walk around the room to display her bound feet (Theatre Collection).
Although the general public was intrigued by Afong Moy, several reporters found the Carnes's treatment of her to be cruel. One reporter, at "the sight of a woman so disabled in her physical structure, [was] inspired to pen a small diatribe against the cruel process to which she had been subjected." The New-York Mirror published a full-page editorial on why it refused to cover the exhibition: "We have not been to see Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese lady with the little feet; nor do we intend to perform that universal ceremony, unless we should find the notoriety which the non-performance must occasion inconveniently burdensome. ... The lovely creatures were made for anything but to be stared at, for half a dollar a head." Little is known of Afong Moy's fate. Apparently, she toured the United States for several years, between 1834 and 1847, performing along with other cultural "oddities." I lose track of her sometime in late 1847.
The Theater Collection sent me on to the various archival holdings of the Barnum and Bailey circuses, where I found newspaper advertisements and posters of the performances and exhibits of Chinese women enacting their daily lives. In 1850, P. T. Barnum's traveling exhibition advertised Chinese women as the "most extraordinary curiosity yet" and put on stage a group of Chinese women promoted as "exotic curios": "Miss Pwan-Yekoo, the Chinese belle, with her Chinese suite of attendants, is drawing all Broadway to the Chinese collection. She is so pretty, so arch, so lively, and so graceful, while her minute feet are wondrous!" (New York Express). Reviews remarked that audiences found these exhibits and demonstrations to be "unusual," "peculiar," and "exotic." Large crowds attended these Chinese women's "acts," which included lessons on how to count and speak in Chinese, play Chinese instruments, and use chopsticks. In the year that Chinese miners first immigrated to the United States for the Gold Rush, the daily life of Chinese women had already emerged as performance.
Such shows gave rise to the earliest stereotype of Chinese women as foreign curiosities. By marketing Chinese women themselves as a form of public entertainment, businessmen like the Carne Brothers and P. T. Barnum developed and exploited a sensationalist mass culture in America, instructing audiences to view Chinese women as human oddities. Concerned not just to duplicate their original representations, I realized that I could use the written narrative of a cyber format to mark the stereotypes, question the images, inform the context, and read the visual codes of resistance--an opportunity well beyond that offered by traditional museum labels.
THE ARCHIVES STRIKE BACK
Global and geopolitical traumas exacerbated the archival and, hence, interpretive barriers I faced. San Francisco's Chinatown burned in the 1906 earthquake, and Chinese scrolls, flags, temple records, newspapers, letters, diaries, immigration documents, legal records, and the documents of the Chinese Benevolent Association went up in flames. In the turmoil and revolutions of twentieth-century mainland China, thousands of letters, newspapers, and photographs carried back to China by shiukes, or water ghosts, vanished. (3) How to visually depict invisibility?
But the archives struck back. Legislative acts and court cases paradoxically voiced the silences they imposed. (4) Government archives exposed the national policy intended to repel and repress Chinese women. The Page Act of 1875 pre-vented the "land[ing]"of anyone from "China, Japan, or any Oriental country" for a fixed "term of service within the United States, for lewd and immoral purposes." It banned the "importation" of "women for the purposes of prostitution" (Forty-Third Congress). This legislation sought to prevent the entry of most Chinese women with the exception of merchants' wives. In creating a shortage of Chinese wives and working women, the Page Act stimulated the trade in slaves and prostitutes. Following the Page Act, the post-Reconstruction antimiscegenation laws across the West, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (the first immigration law to ban a people by race), and the 1924 Immigration Act (ending all legal immigration from Asia) helped me to understand that the cold silences in the archives mirrored the tiny communities of Chinese women. These laws explained why the 1900 census revealed that only 4,500 Chinese women resided in the United States, compared to nearly 90,000 men. The slim number of Chinese women's manuscripts, documents, letters, news-paper articles, and photographs paradoxically documents the racism, patriarchy, and long fear of the "yellow peril."
But what I also found is that the archival memory of Chinese women resides in their formidable resistance to anti-Chinese violence. Early Chinese Americans called the United States Gam Saan, or Gold Mountain. This was a harsh and rugged mountain for Chinese American women to climb. Although their history is woven through the archives of Chinese American men, it remains distinct--from the moment of leaving China to entering the United States, from domestic life to working life, from repression to resilience. When Chinese American women, from the Gold Rush to the turn of the century, slipped out of envelopes, contracts, telegrams, scrap books, photo albums, and court records, their documents created a distinct history and made it clear that during their first fifty years in the United States, Chinese women fought back against violence and violation.
FINDING "GO-AWAY" GIRLS
Finding images and accurate evidence of enslaved Chinese prostitutes--women hidden in plain sight--presented different archival challenges. While Chinese men entered the United States as voluntary free laborers, initially to pan for gold, Chinese women entered enslaved, seized in the port cities of southern China or at times so(d to brokers by destitute parents. Chinese pimps kid-napped baby girls and young teenagers, forced them onto ships, and advertised and sold them at auction in "dens" in the United States. Some Chinese "go-away" girls arrived in heavily padded crates, concealed and billed as freight. They were locked in brothels, held and displayed in rows of cages (called "cribs") along Jackson Street in San Francisco, or shipped to the saloons in the boom towns of the gold fields that stretched as far inland as South Dakota. Most were held captive; most were illiterate. From San Francisco to Los Angeles, from Sacramento to Seattle, legislative testimony and missionary reports state that most of the first Chinese American women died from abuse and venereal diseases. Chinese prostitutes in the United States lived for an average of four to six years, although some served out the terms of a slave contract or were purchased for marriage to a Chinese man.
Some evidence came through missionary records, often with a proselytizing purpose. For example, according to Will Irwin's Old Chinatown, "A girl four years old, past the delicate stage of infancy, would bring from fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars as a speculation" (165). The top price for sex with a Chinese prostitute was seventy-five cents. Anti-Chinese propaganda claimed that a Chinese woman's vaginal slit was horizontal rather than vertical, and men paid between a dime and a quarter for a "lookee" at Chinese girls' genitals, which had, at times, been surgically mutilated (Edholm 136n25). (5) To get around the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery and to evade federal laws banning indentured contracts, pimps and brothel owners paid the purchase money directly to the girl, who then turned it over to her new owner.
Following census records, missionary narratives, testimony to the California legislature, and newspaper advertisements, I tracked the prostitutes who man-aged to flee into small rural towns, only to be rounded up in the mass pogroms and returned to the towns of their owners. In some ways, I found them next door, in the collection of the late Peter Palmquist, who lived near our cabin on the north coast of California. Peter, a renowned historian of western photography, was introduced to me by my summer flute teacher. (6) He gradually shared photos from his private collection, including one of a young prostitute who managed to escape the Bay Area and flee into our remote lumber and fishing town. Such escapes increased the demand for prostitutes in Sacramento and San Francisco and raised both the cost of their purchase and the price of their services. I have stared perplexed at this local studio photograph of a Chinese prostitute, comfortably clothed, and lounging in a seductive Odalisque pose. Atypically for an impoverished girl, her feet are bound. Further, near her couch, someone (the photographer? the woman herself?) placed a pot of chrysanthemums, often a Chinese symbol for purity. Was "Chinese Prostitute, Humboldt County" in fact an archival footprint of one of the girls who managed to escape and flee into remote lumber and fishing towns? Recently, I showed this photo to Deborah Willis, photographer and scholar of African American beauty, who suggested that this very young woman might be one of the few Chinese "picture brides" who deliberately staged a self-representation with many visual clues.
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Who took the photos of these confined and impoverished girls? Who paid for the studio photographs? And who viewed them? Where to find the archival footprints of a young girl trapped in a cage? How to locate her subjectivity? Was she able to flee? I found a few of these courageous girls speaking out in local court cases in which Chinese men fought over their ownership. In the California State Library, I discovered a set of telegrams, flying hourly--nineteenth-century text messages--between Chinese men hundreds of miles apart who were trying to track and trap three runaway Chinese slave girls who had fled on foot across the snowy Sierra Mountains (Dressier 2-41). (7)
In the Tuolumne County Historical Society and Museum, I first found Yoke Leen. I then followed her to the court house in the town of Sonora, where she had climbed up the steps, created her own genre, a legal "affidavit" of her own design, wherein she swears that she has a scar on her face and a cut on her hand. She declares that while her husband "Charlie" is in jail, men will try to kidnap her, and for further protection she attached a photograph to the document (taken by "William Harrington, Photographer, at Sonora, California, in January, 1910").
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Her affidavit, she asserts, "is made for the purpose of identifying me in case I should be kidnapped or in case any criminal charge should be brought against me and by reason of the fact that my husband, Charlie Jones, is now in jail charged with a criminal offense and I fear that his enemies may try to do away with me either by bringing some fictitious charge against me or by kidnapping and imprisoning me" (qtd. in Pfaelzer xxiv). But, she announces, she is a free woman and no man may ever own her again.
Perhaps a few hundred Chinese prostitutes were rescued from slavery, often by missionaries who offered freedom in exchange for conversion to Christianity, instruction in English, and lessons in sewing. Sympathetic observers or even police officers would slip under the front door of a mission, such as the women's shelter run by Donaldina Cameron, a note that identified and located an enslaved girl. Some Chinese prostitutes fled to the Christian missions of their own volition. While there was great compassion and risk shown by missionaries in these "rescues," the very presence of dramatic rescues reestablished images of Chinese villainy and depravity and were used to justify the exclusion of Chinese women. Some former prostitutes became committed to missionary work themselves, but their tales of conversion, like Suey Hin's "Confessions of a Chinese Slave-Dealer" transcribed by missionaries, may be suspect (rpt. in Yung 145-53).
The aura of Chinese infection, contagion, and disease also gave visibility to Chinese women. In the census records, in local histories, doctors' testimonies, and newspapers, I was able to reconstruct the April weekend in 1876 in the small delta town of Antioch, California, when the town doctor announced that seven young sons of "respectable citizens" had contracted syphilis after visiting "Chinese dens" or "green mansions." Within hours, all the Chinese women of the town were loaded onto a fishing boat and set sail. After church on that Sunday morning, the town celebrated the purge, only to discover that the women had returned during the night. By eight o'clock that evening, the white townspeople watched as Antioch's segregated Chinatown, a jagged waterfront row of wooden shacks, burned to the ground. Other newspaper accounts of white boys frequenting Chinese "cribs" and brothels followed. The widespread publication of the Antioch purge in Bay Area newspapers and the belief that ninety percent of the Chinese prostitutes in San Francisco were infected with venereal diseases encouraged other towns to expel Chinese women (Pfaelzer 89-92). (8) Rather than the risk to enslaved prostitutes, however, it was the infection of white males and the threat of contagion to white wives (information complicated by the era's ideology of female purity) that prompted vigilante and civic actions.
It was harder to find nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century images and documents of Chinese working women--laundresses, nannies, shopkeepers, and domestic servants--who were prohibited by law from being in the United States. Perhaps to demonstrate the affiliation of the Chinese with filth and disease, this photograph, found at the Library of Congress, depicts a Chinese woman who, I believe, is emptying and burning slop or "night waste."
The photographer has ensured that she is observed, or perhaps supervised, by a man and that she is marked by the surrounding street of brothels.
The archives challenged the political logic of ethnic cleansing that might have erased traces of Chinese American women. These repressive public documents make it clear that they turned to American courts, to customs officials, to immigration law, to missionaries, and to civil disobedience to demand their rights. Chinese women's formidable resistance to their erasure left its own record, and they left these footprints in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and local courthouses--all the usual places. In one case, by asserting their right to privacy, Chinese American women paradoxically asserted their right to legal visibility. In 1885, Mary McGladery Tape, a Chinese mother in San Francisco, brought legal action against the Board of Education and won the right for her daughter and all other Chinese children to receive public education in San Francisco. Tape v. Hurley was eighty years ahead of Brown v. Board of Education, Similarly, following the brutal weekend purge of all the Chinese from Eureka, California, in 1885, two of the fifty-two plaintiffs were women in Wing Hing v. the City of Eureka, the first lawsuit for reparations in the United States. Women joined this early class action suit in demanding $132,000 in damages and monies for being the objects of mob violence.
I realized that patriarchy could be my archival friend. Ninety-eight percent of Chinese immigrants were men. They mostly lived in segregated "bachelor" communities--railroad barracks, tent cities, and Chinatowns. Many of these men found a place in US history because of their work--mining on depleted riverbeds during the Gold Rush and dynamiting mountains to blast open routes for the railroads. The history of Chinese men sits just beneath the archival surface. In government records, cartoons, advertisements, and photographs, Chinese men were documented--often mocked, but still conserved. Their histories were filed in historical societies, libraries, and government archives. It was in manila folders holding the histories of Chinese men that I sometimes found the histories of Chinese women.
Word about my project travelled. One day, I received a phone call from the Los Angeles County librarian, a woman I had never met. She said she had heard about what I was working on and thought I should see a particular photograph. On the morning after the 1871 mass lynching in Los Angeles's Chinatown, a journalist photographed the Chinese bodies in the jail yard, cut down and waiting to be claimed by their families. In this blurry photograph, two of the twenty bodies buried under dirty blankets, I knew, were women (See Pfaelzer 45-56). Yet women also remained stubbornly silent in these "bachelor archives." In the Los Angeles Times, I found a report that during the riot a Chinese woman shot at the mob from her rooftop--but alas, there was no picture. Similarly, I believe that Chinese women, like Chinese men and crowds of whites, watched as San Jose's Chinatown burned for the fifth time in 1880. But they are not in the photographs. (9) And, I could not find them in the subsequent lawsuit brought by Chinese survivors against police harassment, Quen Hing Tong v. the City of San Jose, when after the fire the Chinese rebuilt Chinatown across the street from San Jose's City Hall.
How to locate and present, without condescension or titillation, to an invisible web audience, the complex effects of foot binding on Chinese American women, whose painful feet kept many in their new homes, only able to be carried outside on palatines? The archives represented and recorded their resilience. In local newspapers, such as the Tacoma Ledger and the Tacoma News, in missives of the State Department, in Congressional testimony by the men routed in one brutal morning from Tacoma and marched from town, and in the fine ground work of local historians, the story of the "little feet" women from Tacoma, then in the Washington Territory, surfaced. The women with bound feet could not endure the nine-mile trek in the mud and were tossed into carts (Roper). But the archives also revealed the history of the abolition of foot binding. By the turn of the century, an early Chinese American women's movement aligned with the democratic energies of China's overthrow of the emperor and its first revolution to abolish foot binding in both countries, using photographs and x-rays as evidence and persuasion. (10)
The archives establish the global and transnational identity of Chinese immigrant women. The revolutions and protests in China in the early twentieth century exported a new set of cultural ideas about women, published in State Department missives (translated perforce into English), in Chinese newspapers, and in correspondence and diaries by female missionaries and diplomats' wives. Chinese American women emerge in American archives in greater numbers at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, an anti-imperialist effort led, in part, by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1899-1900. The 1905 anti-American boycott, the subsequent nationalist revolution and fall of the Q'ing dynasty of 1911, and the antiforeigner protests of May 1919 in Peking (Beijing) that destroyed the Manchu empire included demands for female suffrage, educational rights and literacy for Chinese girls, and the end of the practice of foot binding.
Global archives thus supplanted the "bachelor archives" and Chinese worn-en's hidden histories. As more women from both sides of the Pacific sailed between China and the United States, ideas and documents emigrated, too--cross-fertilized with American women's drives for suffrage, women's colleges, and less restrictive clothing. These Chinese demands quickly seeped into US Chinatowns and shaped the resilience of Chinese American women. They left many tracks for me to follow, such as news clippings and photographs confirming that in 1911 Emma Hoo Tom and Clara Chan Lee voted in the local elections in Oakland, California--apparently the first two Chinese American women to register to vote in the United States. Emma Hoo Tom's, Clara Chan Lee's, and Tye Leung Schulze's ballots were cast eight to nine years prior to those of most US-born women, who officially won the vote on 26 August 1920. (11) Despite the ongoing fears of the "yellow peril," images of possibility shifted for Chinese American women.
The devastation to San Francisco of the 1906 earthquake prompted the city fathers to reclaim the lucrative site of Chinatown in the center of the city and move the Chinese to the edge of town, a move quickly frustrated by the fact that the Chinese owned the land of Chinatown and swiftly returned and rebuilt. I view a rare photograph of the earthquake, found at the Chinese Historical Society of the Americas, in the context of so many images of women in refugee camps today, and I see the power of endurance, the pressure for home, and the force of domesticity in Chinese women and children crowded around makeshift tents, guarded by white men.
The destruction of documents in the earthquake's fires opened a four-year window for women to emigrate from China. With documents in ashes, family links were impossible to verify and Chinese women, determined to enter, quickly seized this chance to join their husbands. They reemerge in the obsessive paper trail of immigration cards, coaching handbooks, and photographs of Angel Island Detention Center opened by the federal government on San Francisco Bay in 1910 to block the thousands of Chinese men and women rushing to the United States.
The imprisonment of Chinese immigrants--male and female--provided documents of their legal struggles and suggests the utopian dreams of new Chinese Americans. Some archives, such as the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Program, now have the detailed "coaching books" that the women imprisoned at Angel Island memorized in order to match the testimony of husbands awaiting them ashore. Angel Island, documented in the late Him Mark Lai's Island, a collection of documents, photographs, and most particularly poems carved into the wooden walls of the prison cells, produced the painful testimony of women detained for as long as two years, trying to seamlessly match their family biographies to the testimony of their husbands awaiting their arrival.
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FICTION AS AN ARCHIVE
To help me Interpret these historical documents and images and locate their traditions, I often turned to fiction. Fiction, I realized, is also a women's "archive." Time and again, I returned to the writings of Sui Sin Far, the first prominent North American Chinese journalist and author. For example, when I first looked at the image of Afong Moy, confined and displayed on a New York stage, I recalled Sui Sin Far's short story "it's [sic] Wavering Image." This is a tale of a newspaper man, Mark Carson, caught up in the "yellow press," who wants to write a scurrilous "special-feature article" about Chinatown (64). To find his way through the restaurants, alleys, and organizations, he seduces Pan, the daughter of a Chinese merchant and a white mother. Through Pan, Carson believes he has penetrated Chinatown and then publishes a false and demeaning article about an exotic Chinese underworld of difference, corruption, and filth. Meanwhile, he insists that Pan find salvation and marriage by abandoning Chinatown and choosing to be white. Outraged and betrayed by the story she has facilitated, Pan rejects Mark and repudiates the power of his Orientalist gaze.
To understand the Chinese women who traveled to the United States only to see their children denied entry because their conception by a "legal" Chinese man could not be verified, I turned again to literature. To interpret the subjectivity within thousands of habeas corpus records at National Archives, I returned to Sui Sin Far. In "In the Land of the Free," she tells a story of Lae Choo, the wife of a merchant who had conceived a child on his visit back home. When Lae Choo and her small child arrive in San Francisco to join her husband, customs officials seize the little boy. Claiming that any man in China might have fathered the child, the officers place him in foster care. Within the sentimental trope of maternal loss, the mother and father pass a frightening year, paying corrupt lawyers and customs officials to restore their child to them, only to find that he has, by then, identified with the white family and its white customs.
Although the census cites many marriages between Chinese men and Irish or African American women, and between white men and Chinese women, without letters or diaries I returned to literature. Archives are by nature interdisciplinary, and in fiction, photographs, and film I found Lain Nathoy (1855-1933), who took the name Polly Bemis. Lalu Nathoy was born in Northern China to impoverished farmers. Apparently, her father sold her to bandits for two bags of seed. Sold yet again, in 1872 she was shipped to San Francisco where she was purchased, at auction, for $2,500. Her new owner, Hong King, ran a saloon in a mining camp in Warrens, Idaho, where Lalu Nathoy either worked as a prostitute until she earned her freedom or was won in a poker game. Eventually, she married a white Idaho rancher, Charles Bemis, and she was known through-out the west as a pioneer, miner, farmer, and fisher woman, and she resurfaces as the protagonist of Ruthanne Lum McCunn's 1981 novel, Thousand Pieces of Gold, and of the 1991 film of the same name.
HANGING OUT AND THE ARCHIVES OF MEMORY
As I hunted for images and documents of the first Chinese American women, I found that hanging out was increasingly a fine methodology. Even as I did research in "all the usual places" to curate this exhibit, many discoveries came from friends or from folks eager to have the history widely told, who filled in the invisibility with photographs, the silences with their stories, their ancestors' recipes, and private letters. At times local librarians, county clerks, and historians were reluctant to share the troubling histories of their communities--histories I already knew. Others were eager--perhaps relieved--to tell the stories of their families or of the first Chinese American women in their towns, and they opened clipping files, maps, court records, leather wallets, and private photo collections, which often revealed episodes of local division, racism, and brutality. At every archive, I donated copies of materials I had already found. And, I have returned to most of these towns to speak of their Chinese foremothers and to show and discuss the cyber exhibit.
Librarians graced this exhibit with their perseverance, curiosity, wisdom, and generosity. For example, I was in search of photo identity cards required under the 1892 Geary Act, which renewed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 with this onerous new provision. The cards were likely the first internal passports since slave passes. These government photographs followed the largest mass civil disobedience to that date, when 107,000 of the 110,000 Chinese living in the United States refused to register, be photographed, or wear the "dog tags." I telephoned the National Archives and spoke with a Vietnamese American archivist. We shared our dismay at her discovery that the Archives apparently had destroyed these cards. On her own, over the next few days, she searched through old uncataloged boxes of private donations from Chinese families until she was able to produce five cards, one of a woman named Yuen Conchu (Pfaeler 333). As we stared at these images of anti-immigrant violence, together we wondered why the National Archives had destroyed this shameful evidence.
Finally, in this archival quest, I listened to the archives of memory. By the turn of the twentieth century, there were generations of Chinese Americans. Eager for their grandmothers' and great grandmothers' stories to be told, friends and colleagues shared papers, letters, wills, immigration documents, and photographs. With female lineage comes history and memory. I found Mary Lee through a curious and talkative seatmate on a crowded United Airlines flight--an import/export executive who introduced me to his ninety-year-old friend in Chinatown. One afternoon as we shopped in her favorite take-out dim sum shops and she bought me my first zhen zhu nai cha, or sweet tapioca bubble tea, Mary told me how the men and women of her family had sailed from Guangdong Province along the southern coast of China for San Francisco when she was a small girl. After weeks at sea, their crowded little fishing boat could not breach the winds of the Golden Gate and they decided to sail south, landing finally in Monterey, a tolerant if not welcoming town, where they were helped by only local Native Americans.
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Other friends described their grandmothers, whose feet hurt so badly they could only crawl around the house. I went to interview Chinese historian Connie Young Yu for an oral history of Heinlinville, an enduring Chinatown of San Jose, California, where she had grown up. But rather than be interviewed, Con-nie Yu dressed me in the clothes of her great-grandmother and grandmother--merchants' wives in San Jose from the 1880s--to help me to understand the subjective path of my quest. Connie explained the symbolism of the embroidery, the names of the jackets, and the meanings of the colors. While still standing in her ancestors' clothes, I presented Connie with a copy of the lawsuit filed by Chinese merchants against the mayor of San Jose for police harassment, perhaps the first of its kind. Connie discovered her grandfather as a party to this historic suit--a powerful gift from the archives. When I sought to exhibit images of Chinese American women's history through World War II, Connie gave me the picture of her cousin, Lonnie Young. It is iconic to only us.
These images and many more are in the cyber exhibit of Chinese American Women, at the National Women's History Museum, which is coming into being as a building in Washington, DC. Legislation passed the House of Representatives in fall 2009, authorizing the museum to buy a federal building on Independence Avenue, at the Smithsonian metro stop, just across the street from the Smithsonian "Mall." As I write, parallel legislation is moving through the Senate. Soon, as its Executive Director Joan Wages has remarked, "[w]omen will be able to have a true glass ceiling in our nation's capital." The very real women in this exhibit will soon find an enduring visibility. We found each other in the archives and by hanging out.
(1.) I am deeply grateful to Nikki Emser, Program Director for the National Women's History Museum, for her educated guidance and support of this exhibit, and the academic pioneers in Chinese American women's history, including Judy Yung, Sue Lee, and Connie Young Yu, among many others, who charted my path.
(2.) These treasures were promoted in the New-York Daily Advertiser during October and November 1834.
(3.) The Museum of the Overseas Chinese in Beijing is just now beginning to locate materials of those who emigrated across the world.
(4.) For a summary of the legislation that sought to regulate the lives of Chinese immigrants, see National Women's I History Museum.
(5.) See, for example, Edholm's "A Stain on the Flag." Edholm, a rescue missionary, published this illustrated essay in the 1892 Californian Illustrated Magazine. It contains two photographs purporting to be of Chinese prostitutes and offers "some rare voices of Chinese prostitutes and the perspective of missionary women who crusaded to eradicate the problem" (Yung 127-28). Edholm also wrote a book, How to Prevent Traffic in Girls.
(6.) The collection of the late Peter E. Palmquist is now housed in the Western Americana Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.
(7.) With verification letter from Milton J. Ferguson, State Librarian, California State Library, dated 21 March 1927 (viii).
(8.) See San Francisco Chronicle 2 May 1876; Public Opinion 6 May 1876; Sacramento Daily Record 2 May 1876; and History of Contra Costa County, California (San Francisco: W.A. Slocum, 1882).
(9.) Newspaper sources for the events of the Los Angeles massacre of 1871 include the Daily Alta California, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Star, the Los Angeles Weekly News, the Los Angeles Evening Express, the Sacramento Bee, and the Sacramento Daily Union, 24-30 October 1871.
(10.) See San Francisco Chronicle 3 November 1902 and San Francisco Examiner 3 November 1902. See also Yang, "Unbound Feet: Chinese Immigrant Women, 1902-1929," Unbound Feet 52-105.
(11.) See San Francisco Bulletin 22 November 1911 and San Francisco Call 19 May 1912.
Legislation and Legal Cases
Forty-Third Congress. Session II. Ch. 141. 3 Mar. 1875. An act supplementary to the acts in relation to immigration, [aka the Page Act]
Forty-Seventh Congress. Session I. Ch. 126. 6 May 1882. An act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to the Chinese. [aka the Chinese Exclusion Act].
Fifty-Second Congress. Session I. Ch. 60. 5 May 1892. An act to prohibit the coming of Chinese persons into the United States. [aka the Geary Act].
Sixty-Eighth Congress. Session I. Ch. 185 and 190. 26 May 1924. An act to limit the migration of aliens into the United States. [aka the Immigration Act]
Quen Hing Tong v. City of San Jose, et al. Ninth Circuit, 1894. 11282-11294. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 21.
Tape v. Hurley. 1885. 66 Cal. 473. California Supreme Court. WPA 18443.
Wing Hing v. City of Eureka. 3948 F. Ninth Circuit, 1886. See File 3948. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 21.
Roper, J., Deputy Marshal. Affidavit. 3 Nov. 1886. Miscellaneous Letters of the Department of State, 1789-1906. National Archives and Records Administration, M-179, roll 707. Washington, DC.
Theatre Collection. Museum of the City of New York. New York.
Yoke Leen. Affidavit. 21 Feb. 1910. Tuolumne County Museum and History Center. Sonora, CA.
Yuen Conchu. United States Certificate of Residence. Hawaii, No. 19437. National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, DC.
Dressler, Albert. California Chinese Chatter. San Francisco: Dressler, 1927.
Edholm, M[ary] G[race] C[harlton]. How to Prevent Traffic in Girls; Personal Experiences in Rescue Work with a. Symposium by Prominent People on How to Prevent the Traffic in Girls. San Francisco: Social Welfare League, 1914.
--. "A Stain on the Flag." California Illustrated Magazine 1 (May 1892): 159-70.
Rpt. in Yung, Unbound Voices 128 41.
Irwin, Will. Old Chinatown: A Book of Pictures. N.p.: Kennerley, 1913.
Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. 1980. Trans. Lai, Lim, and Yung. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1999.
McCunn, Ruthanne Lum. Thousand Pieces of Gold: A Biographical Novel. San Francisco: Design Enterprises, 1981.
National Women's History Museum. "To Enter and Remain." Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance. Curated by Jean Pfaelzer. Web. 8 Dec. 2009.
New York Express 22 Apr. 1850.
New York Times 9 July 1836.
Pfaelzer, Jean. Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. New York: Random, 2007.
Suey Hin. "Confession of a Chinese Slave-Dealer: How She Bought Her Girls, Smuggled Them into San Francisco, and Why She Has Just Freed Them." Interview by Helen Grey. Trans. Grey. Rpt. in Yung, Unbound Voices 145-53.
Sui Sin Far. "In the Land of the Free." "Mrs. Spring Fragrance" 93-101.
--. "It's [sic] Wavering Image." "Mrs. Spring Fragrance" 61-66.
--. "Mrs. Spring Fragrance" and Other Writings. Ed. Amy Ling and Annette White-Parks. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1995.
Thousand Pieces of Gold. Dir. Nancy Kelly. Perf. Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper. American Playhouse, 1991. Film.
Yung, Judy. Introduction. "A Stain on the Flag." Yung, Unbound Voices 124-28.
--. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.
--. Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999.
University of Delaware…