discuss two circumstances of gendered labor that caught your attention. Why these two issues?
• Do you see a resolution to this type of inequality?
• What do you think can be done structurally to create social change?
onal Migration Re CHAPTER 5 om Bangladesh New York: Be Gender and Labor in ent and labor flow Asian Immigrant Families bor. Cambridge Yen Le Espiritu g labor migra ddle East. Bowl. oyment in the nursing shortage ed Kingdom, 50-77). Min- Through the process of migration and settlement, patriarchal relations undergo The dialectic continual negotiation as women and men rebuild their lives in the new country. An 5(3/4), 34-41 important task in the study of immigration has been to examine this reconfigura- u: University tion of gender relations. Central to the reconfiguration of gender hierarchies is the change in immigrant women's and men's relative positions of power and status in s. New York the country of settlement. Theoretically, migration may improve women's social position if it leads to increased participation in wage employment, more control pines. Asian over earnings, and greater participation in family decision making (Pessar, 1984). Alternatively, migration may leave gender asymmetries largely unchanged even and Culture: though certain dimensions of gender inequalities are modified (Curtis, 1986). The existing literature on migration and changing gender relations suggests contradict Professional tory outcomes whereby the position of immigrant women is improved in some do- mains even as it is eroded in others (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994; Morokvasic, 1984; nal migra- Tienda & Booth, 1991). he female ex- This essay is a first attempt to survey the field of contemporary Asian immi- grants and the effects of employment patterns on gender relations. My review in- slander Pop- dicates that the growth of female-intensive industries in the United States-and Office the corresponding preference for racialized and female labor-has enhanced the The Mar- employability of some Asian immigrant women over that of their male counter- parts and positioned them as coproviders, if not primary providers, for their fam- New York: ilies. The existing data also suggest that gender relations are experienced differently in different structural occupational locations. In contrast with the largely unskilled sity Press. immigrant population of the pre-World War II period, today's Asian immigrants S. Wein Caribbean include not only low-wage service sector workers but also significant numbers of white-collar professionals. A large number of immigrants have also turned to self-employment (Ong & Hee, 1994). Given this occupational diversity, I divide the following discussion into three occupational categories and examine gender issues 81
ASIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES within each group: the salaried professionals, the self-employed entrepreneurs the wage laborers.! Although changes in gender relations have been slow anal even in each of these three groups, the existing data indicate that men's depth daughters, or mothers of U.S. permanent residents and citizens make up the pri- dence on the economic and social resources of women is most pronounced amen mary component of change (Donato, 1992, p. 164). The dominance of women im- the wage laborers. In all three groups, however, Asian women's ability to transfong migrants also reflects the growth of female-intensive industries in the United States, patriarchal family relations is often constrained by their social position as raci. particularly in the service, health care, microelectronics, and apparel-manufacturing subordinated women in U.S. society. industries (Clement & Myles, 1994, p. 26). Of all women in the United States, Asian As a review of existing works, this article reflects the gaps in the field. Overal immigrant women have recorded the highest rate of labor force participation (Gardner, Robey, & Smith, 1985). In 1980, among married immigrant women be- most studies of contemporary Asian immigrants have focused more on the ishly tween 25 and 64 years of age, 61% of Korean women, 65% of Chinese women of economic adaptation than on the effects of employment patterns on gender re. and 83% of Filipino women were in the labor force (Duleep & Sanders, 1993). In lations. Because there is still little information on the connections between work. 1990, Asian women had a slightly higher labor force participation rate than all and home life-particularly among the salaried professionals-the following dic women, 60% as opposed to 57% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993, Figure 6). cussion on gender relations among contemporary Asian immigrants is at times ner. essarily exploratory. ECONOMIC DIVERSITY AMONG CONTEMPORARY ASIAN IMMIGRANTS IMMIGRATION LAWS, LABOR NEEDS, Relative to earlier historical periods, the employment pattern of today's Asian AND CHANGING GENDER COMPOSITION Americans is considerably more varied, a result of both immigration and a chang- ing structure of opportunity. During the first half of the 20th century, Asians were Asian Americans' lives have been fundamentally shaped by the legal exclusions of concentrated at the bottom of the economic ladder-restricted to retailing, food 1882, 1917, 1924, and 1934, and by the liberalization laws of 1965.2 Exclusion laws service, menial service, and agricultural occupations. After World War II, economic restricted Asian immigration to the United States, skewed the sex ratio of the early opportunities improved but not sufficiently for educated Asian Americans to achieve communities so that men were disproportionately represented, and truncated the parity. In the post-1965 era, the economic status of Asian Americans has bifurcated, development of conjugal families. The 1965 Immigration Act equalized immigra showing some great improvements but also persistent problems. The 1965 Immi- tion rights for all nationalities. No longer constrained by exclusion laws, Asian im- gration Act and a restructuring of the economy brought a large number of migrants began coming in much larger numbers than ever before. In the period low-skilled and highly educated Asians to this country, creating a bimodalism (Ong from 1971 to 1990, approximately 855,500 Filipinos, 610,800 Koreans, and 576,100 & Hee, 1994). As indicated in Table 5.1, Asian Americans were overrepresented in Chinese entered the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992). Moreover, the well-paid, educated , white-collar sector of the workforce and in the lower pay- with the collapse of U.S.-backed governments in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cam- ing service and manufacturing jobs. This bimodalism is most evident among Chi- bodia in 1975, more than one million refugees from these countries have resettled nese men: although 24% of Chinese men were professionals in 1990, another 19% in the United States. As a consequence, in the 1980s, Asia was the largest source of were in service jobs . U.S. legal immigrants, accounting for 40% to 47% of the total influx (Min, 1995b, Asian professional immigrants are overrepresented as scientists, engineers, and p. 12).3 In 1990, 66% of Asians in the United States were foreign born (U.S. Bureau health care professionals in the United States. In 1990, Asians were 3% of the U.S. of the Census, 1993, Figure 3). total population but accounted for close to 7% of the scientist and engineer work- Whereas pre-World War II immigration from Asia was composed mostly of force. Their greatest presence was among engineers with doctorate degrees, con- men, the contemporary flow is dominated by women. Women make up the clear stituting more than one fifth of this group in 1980 and in 1990 (Ong & Blumen- majority among U.S. immigrants from nations in Asia but also from those in Cen berg, 1994, p. 169). Although Asian immigrant men dominated the fields of tral and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe (Donato, 1992). Between 1913 engineering, mathematics, and computer science, Asian immigrant women were and 1980, women (20 years and older) constituted more than 50% of the immi also overrepresented in these traditionally male-dominated professions. In 1990, grants from China, Burma, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philip Asian women accounted for 5% of all female college graduates in the U.S. labor pines, Korea, Japan, and Thailand (Donato, 1992). The dual goals of the 1965 Im force but 10% to 15% of engineers and architects, computer scientists, and re- migration Act-to facilitate family reunification and, secondarily, to admit workers searchers in the hard sciences (Rong & Preissle, 1997, pp. 279-280). with special job skills have produced a female-dominated flow. Since 1965, most In the field of health care, two thirds of foreign nurses and 60% of foreign doc- visas have been allocated to relatives of U.S. residents. Women who came as wives, tors admitted to the United States during the fiscal years 1988 to 1990 were from
TABLE 5. 1. Occupational Distribution by Gender and Ethnicity, 1990 (in Percentages) Occupation Chinese Japanese Orange counties were self-employed. A survey conducted in New York City re- Filipino vealed an even higher self-employment rate of more than 50% (Min, 1996, p. 48). Men Korean Viet Because another 30% of Korean immigrants work in the Korean ethnic market, Managerial 13 the vast majority of the Korean workforce-three out of four Korean workers- Professional 12 24 are segregated in the Korean ethnic economy either as business owners or as em- Technical, sales 15 18 ployees of coethnic businesses (Min, 1998, p. 17). The problems of underemploy- Administrative support ment, misemployment, and discrimination in the U.S. labor market have turned Service many educated and professional Korean immigrants toward self-employment (Min, Fish, forestry 1995a, p. 209). Based on a 1988 survey, nearly half of the Korean male entrepre- Production, craft neurs had completed college (Fawcett & Gardner, 1994, p. 220). Operators Although some Asian immigrants constitute "brain drain" workers and self- employed entrepreneurs, others labor in peripheral and labor-intensive industries. Women The typical pattern of a dual-worker family is a husband who works as a waiter, Managerial cook, janitor, or store helper and a wife who is employed in a garment shop or on Professional an assembly line. In a study conducted by the Asian Immigrant Women Advo- Technical, sales 16 cates (AIWA), 93% of the 166 seamstresses surveyed in the San Francisco Bay-Oak- Administrative support 28 and area listed their husbands' jobs as unskilled or semiskilled, including waiter, Service 17 28 25 busboy, gardener, day laborer, and the like (Louie, 1992, p. 9). Most disadvantaged Fish, forestry <1 17 20 male immigrants can get jobs only in ethnic businesses in which wages are low but Production, craft only simple English is required (Chen, 1992, p. 103). On the other hand, since the Operators Q V= & late 1960s, the United States has generated a significant number of informal sec- tor service occupations-paid domestic work, child care, garment and electronic SOURCE: Mar & Kim, 1994, p. 25, Table 3. Reprinted with permission. assembly-that rely primarily on female immigrant workers (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994, pp. 186-187). Due to the perceived vulnerability of their class, gender, eth- nicity, and immigration status, Asian immigrant women-and other immigrant women of color-have been heavily recruited to toil in these low-wage industries. Asia (Kanjanapan, 1995, p. 18). Today, Asian immigrants represent nearly a quar- ter of the health care providers in public hospitals in major U.S. metropolitan ar- As indicated in Table 5.1, Asian women of all ethnic groups were much more likely eas (Ong & Azores, 1994a, p. 139). Of the 55,400 Asian American nurses regis- than Asian men to be in administrative support and service jobs. tered in 1990, 90% were foreign born (Rong & Preissle, 1997, pp. 279-280). The Philippines is the largest supplier of health professionals to the United States, send- GENDER RELATIONS AMONG SALARIED PROFESSIONALS ing nearly 25,000 nurses to this country between 1966 and 1985 and another 10,000 between 1989 and 1991 (Ong & Azores, 1994a, p. 154). Due to the dominance of Although the large presence of Asian professional workers is now well documented, nurses, Filipinas are more likely than other women and than Filipino men to be in we still have little information on the connections between work and home life-be- professional jobs. Table 5.I indicates that in 1990, 20% of Filipino women but only tween the public and private spheres-of this population. The available case stud- 12% of Filipino men had professional occupations. ies suggest greater male involvement in household labor in these families. In a study Responding to limited job opportunities, particularly for the highly educated, a of Taiwan immigrants in New York, Hsiang-Shui Chen (1992) reports that the de- large number of Asian Americans have also turned to self-employment. Asian im- gree of husbands' participation in household labor varied considerably along class migrants are much more likely than their native-born counterparts to be entre- lines, with men in the professional class doing a greater share than men in the work- preneurs: In 1990, 85% of the Asian American self-employed population were im- ing and small-business classes (p. 77). Although women still performed most of the migrants (Ong & Hee, 1994, P. 51). Korean immigrants have the highest household labor, men helped with vacuuming, disposing of garbage, laundry, dish- self-employment rate of any minority and immigrant group (Light & Bonacich, washing, and bathroom cleaning. In a survey of Korean immigrant families in New 1986). A 1986 survey showed that 45% of Korean immigrants in Los Angeles and York, Pyong Gap Min (1998) found a similar pattern: younger, professional husbands undertook more housework than did men in other occupational categories, although
86 YEN LE ESPIRITU ASIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 87 their wives still did the lion's share (pp. 42-43). Professional couples of oth racial-ethnic groups also seem to enjoy more gender equality. For example, Beaner household responsibilities in their wives' absences. A survey of Filipino nurses in M. Pesquera (1993) reports that Chicano "professional men married to profession Los Angeles County reveals that these women, to increase their incomes, tend to women did a greater share than most other men" (p. 194). This more equit, al work double shifts or in the higher paying evening and night shifts (Ong & Azores, household division of labor can be attributed to the lack of a substantial earnit 19946, pp. 183-184). In her research on shift work and dual-earner spouses with gap between professional men and women, the demands of the women's careers children, Harriet Pressner (1988) finds that the husbands of night-shift workers do and the women's ability to pressure their husbands into doing their share of " a significant part of child care; in all cases, it was the husbands who supervised the household chores (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994; Hood, 1983; Kibria, 1993; Pesquera oft-rushed morning routines of getting their children up and off to school or to child 1993). On the other hand, Chen (1992), Min (1998), and Pesquera (1993) all conclude care. Finally, unlike most other women professionals, Asian American nurses often that women in professional families still perform more of the household labor that work among their coethnics and thus benefit from these social support systems. Ac- their husbands do. Moreover, Pesquera reports that, for the most part, the only way cording to Paul Ong and Tania Azores (1994b), there are "visible clusterings of Fil- women have altered the distribution of household labor has been through conflict ipino nurses" in many hospitals in large metropolitan areas (p. 187). These women's and confrontation, suggesting that ideologically most men continue to view house. social networks can provide the emotional and material support needed to chal- work as women's work (p. 185). These three case studies remind us that professional lenge male dominance. women, like most other working women, have to juggle full-time work outside the Despite their high levels of education, racism in the workplace threatens the home with the responsibilities of child care and housework. This burden is magni. employment security and class status of Asian immigrant professional men and fied for professional women because most tend to live in largely White, suburban women. Even when these women and men have superior levels of education, they still receive economic returns lower than those of their White counterparts and are neighborhoods where they have little or no access to the women's social networks more likely to remain marginalized in their work organizations, to encounter a glass that exist in highly connected ethnic communities (Glenn, 1983, p. 41; Kibria, 1993). ceiling, and to be underemployed (Chai, 1987; Ong & Hee, 1994, pp. 40-41; Ya- Given the shortage of medical personnel in the United States, particularly in manaka & Mcclelland, 1994, p. 86). As racialized women, Asian professional the inner cities and in rural areas, Asian women health professionals may be in a women also suffer greater sexual harassment than do their Western counterparts relatively strong position to modify traditional patriarchy. First, as a much sought due to racialized ascription that depicts them as politically passive and sexually after group among U.S. immigrants, Asian women health professionals can enter exotic and submissive. In her research on racialized sexual harassment in institu- the United States as the principal immigrants (Espiritu, 1995, p. 21). This means tions of higher education, Sumi Cho (1997) argues that Asian American women that unmarried women can immigrate on their own accord, and married women faculty are especially susceptible to hostile-environment forms of harassment. This can enter as the primary immigrants, with their husbands and children following hostile environment may partly explain why Asian American women faculty con- as dependents. My field research of Filipino American families in San Diego sug- tinue to have the lowest tenure and promotion rate of all groups (Hune & Chan, gests that a female-first migration stream, especially when the women are mar- 1997). Racism in the workplace can put undue stress on the family. Singh, a me- ried, has enormous ramifications for both family relations and domestic roles. For chanical engineer who immigrated to the United States from India in 1972, became example, when Joey Laguda's mother, a Filipina medical technologist, entered the discouraged when he was not advancing at the same rate as his colleagues and at- country in 1965, she carried the primary immigrant status and sponsored Joey's tributed his difficulties to job discrimination based on national and racial origins. father and two other sons as her dependents. Joey describes the downward occur Singh's wife, Kaur, describes how racism affected her husband and her family: "It pational shift that his father experienced on immigrating to the United States: "My became harder and harder for my husband to put up with the discrimination at father had graduated in the Philippines with a bachelor's degree in criminology but work. He was always stressed out. This affected the whole family" (Dhaliwal, 1995, couldn't get a job as a police officer here because he was not a U.S. citizen. So he P. 78). Among Korean immigrant families in New York, the husbands' losses in only worked blue-collar jobs" (Espiritu, 1995, p. 181). The experience of Joey's fa- occupational status led to marital conflicts , violence , and ultimately divorce . Some ther suggests that Asian men who immigrate as their wives' dependents often ex- Korean men turned to excessive drinking and gambling, which contributed to mar- perience downward occupational mobility in the United States, while their wives ital difficulties (Min, 1998, pp. 52, 55). A Korean wife attributes their marital prob- maintain their professional status. The same pattern exists among Korean immi- lems to her husband's frustration over his low economic status: grant families in New York: While Korean nurses hold stable jobs, many of their educated husbands are unemployed or underemployed (Min, 1998, Moreover, given the long hours and the graveyard shifts that typify a nurse's Five years ago, he left home after a little argument with me and came back two weeks work schedule, many husbands have had to assume more child c child care and other later. He wanted to get respect from me. But a real source of the problem was not me but his frustration over low status. (Min, 1998, p. 54 )
88 YEN LE ESPIRITU ASIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES Constrained by racial and gender discrimination, Asian professional wom the other hand, may accept certain components of the traditional patriarch tem because they need their husbands' incomes and because they desire a ly watch the children while the mothers labor at the family stores form an additional and intact family-an important bastion of resistance to oppression. layer of unpaid family labor that also supports these stores (Bonacich et al., 1987, p. 237). Because of their crucial contributions to the family enterprise, wives are an eco- GENDER RELATIONS AMONG nomically valuable commodity. A 1996-1997 survey of Koreans in New York City SELF-EMPLOYED ENTREPRENEURS indicates that 38% of the working women worked together with their husbands in Ethnic entrepreneurship is often seen as proof of the benefits of the enterprise. the same businesses (Min, 1998, pp. 38-39). A study of Korean immigrants in tem: If people are ambitious and willing to work hard, they can succeed in Elmhurst, Illinois, indicates that "a man cannot even think of establishing his own business without a wife to support and work with" (Park, 1989, p. 144). Yoon (1997) United States. In reality, few Asian immigrant business owners manage to achie. reports a similar finding among Korean businesses in Chicago and Los Angeles: upward mobility through entrepreneurship. The majority of the businesses ha Wives are the most important source of family labor (p. 157). Corresponding very low gross earnings and run a high risk of failure. Because of limited capi changes in conjugal relationships, however, have been slow and uneven. Unlike and skills, Asian immigrant entrepreneurs congregate in highly competitive, ma. paid employment, work in a family business seldom gives women economic inde- ginally profitable, and labor-intensive businesses such as small markets, clothing pendence from their husbands. She is co-owner of the small business, working for subcontracting, and restaurants (Ong, 1984, p. 46). In an analysis of the 1990 cen herself and for her family, but she is also unpaid family labor, working as an un- sus data, Ong and Hee (1994) show that the median annual income of self. paid employee of her husband. It is conceivable that, for many immigrant women employed Asian Americans is $23,000, which is slightly higher than that of White in small businesses, the latter role predominates. Min (1998) reports that in almost ($20,000) (p. 47). But there is a great deal of variation in earnings: A quarter cam all cases, when a Korean husband and wife run a business, the husband is the le- $10,400 or less, another quarter earn at least $47,000, and 1% earn more that gal owner and controls the money and personnel management of the business. $200,000 (Ong & Hee, 1994, P. 55, note 17). The chances for business failure ap- Even when the wife plays a dominant role and the husband a marginal role in op- erating and managing the family business, the husband is still considered the owner pear particularly high for Southeast Asian immigrants; for every 20 businesses by the family and by the larger Korean immigrant community (Min, 1998, started by them each month, 18 fail during the first year (May, 1987). pp. 45-46). In such instances, the husbands could be the women's "most immedi Given the labor-intensive and competitive nature of small businesses, women's ate and harshest employers" (Bonacich et al., 1987, p. 237). participation makes possible the development and viability of family enterprises. Even though the family business, in some ways, is the antithesis of the separate Initially, women contribute to capital accumulation by engaging in wage work to gender spheres (men's public world of work and women's private world of domes- provide the additional capital needed to launch a business (Kim & Hurh, 1985). In ticity), it can exacerbate dependency. Like housework, managing stores fosters alien a study of professional and educated Korean couples in Hawaii, Alice Chai (1987) ation and isolation because it "affords little time and opportunity for women who found that Korean immigrant women resisted both class and domestic oppression run them to develop other skills or to establish close friendships" (Mazumdar, 1989, by struggling to develop small family businesses where they work in partnership p. 17). Also, living and working in isolation, immigrant entrepreneurs may not be with their husbands. Operating a family business removes them from the racist and as influenced by the more flexible gender roles of U.S. middle-class couples and sexist labor market and increases their interdependence with their husbands thus seem to be slower than other immigrant groups to discard rigid gender role Women also keep down labor costs by working without pay in the family enterprise divisions (Min, 1992). In most instances, women's labor in family businesses is (Kim & Hurh, 1988, p. 154). Often, unpaid female labor enables the family store defined as an extension of their domestic responsibilities. Kaur, a South Asian im- to stay open as many as 14 hours a day, and on weekends, without having to hire migrant women who manages the family grocery store, describes the blurred additional workers (Bonacich, Hossain, & Park, 1987, p. 237). According to Ong boundaries between home and work : and Hee (1994), three quarters of Asian immigrant businesses do not have a single outside employee-the typical store is run by a single person or by a family (p. 52). I have a desk at home where I do my paperwork. This way I can be home when my Their profits come directly from their labor, the labor of their families, and from daughters get home from school, and when my husband gets home from work I can staying open long hours (Gold, 1994). According to Ong and Hee (1994), approx. serve him dinner right away . . . . I bought a stove for the store on which I cook meals for my husband and children during the hours when business is slow at the store . ... imately 42% of Asian American business owners work 50 hours or more per week, I try to combine my housework with the store work such as grocery shopping. When and 26% work 60 hours or more per week (p. 47). Finally, the grandmothers who I go shopping I buy stuff for home and the store. (Dhaliwal, 1995, p. 80)
ASIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 91 The family's construction of Kaur's work as an extension of her domestic rey sibilities stabilizes patriarchal ideology because it reconciles the new party arrangement (Kaur's participation in the public sphere) with previous gendid In sum, the burgeoning Asian immigrant small-business sector is being built, in pectations and ideologies. Similarly, Min (1998) reports that in most Koreaer part, on the racist, patriarchal, and class exploitation of Asian (and other) immi- duce, grocery, and liquor stores that stay open long hours, wives are expect Phy grant women. Barred from decent-paying jobs in the general labor market, Asian perform domestic functions at work such as cooking for their husbands and. immigrant women labor long and hard for the benefit of men who are either their other employees (p. 49). husbands or their employers or both-and in many cases, for the benefit of cor- porate America (Bonacich et al., 1987, p. 238). The ethnic business confers quite When these small businesses employ coethnics, wages are low and working co. different economic and social rewards on men and women (Zhou & Logan 1989). ditions dismal. Ong and Umemoto (1994) list some of the unfair labor practices at Whereas men benefit economically and socially from the unpaid or underpaid fe- dured by workers in ethnic businesses: unpaid wages and unpaid workers' com male labor, women bear the added burden of the double workday. Thus, it is crit- pensation, violation of worker health and safety regulations, and violation. ical to recognize that the ethnic economy is both a thriving center and a source of minimum wage laws (p. 100). The exploitation of coethnic workers, specifically hardship and exploitation for Asian immigrant women. women workers, is rampant in the clothing subcontracting business. Asian imm grant women make up a significant proportion of garment workers. Asian immi GENDER RELATIONS AMONG THE WAGE LABORERS grant men also toil in the garment industry but mostly as contractors-small business owners who subcontract from manufacturers to do the cutting and sewing Among the three occupational groups reviewed in this article, gender role rever- of garments from the manufacturers' designs and textiles. Because they directly sals-wives' increased economic role and husbands' reduced economic role-seem employ labor, garment contractors are in a sense labor contractors who mobilize to be most pronounced among the wage laborers. In part, these changes reflect the growth of female-intensive industries in the United States, particularly in the employ, and control labor for the rest of the industry (Bonacich, 1994). garment and microelectronics industries, and the corresponding decline of male- As middlemen between the manufacturers and the garment workers, these con- dominated industries specializing in the production and distribution of goods tractors struggle as marginally secure entrepreneurs on the very fringes of the gar. Clement & Myles, 1994, P. 26). As a consequence, Asian immigrant women with ment industry (Wong, 1983, p. 365). The precarious nature of the business is indi. limited education, skills, and English fluency have more employment options than cated by the high number of garment factories that close each year (Ong, 1984, do their male counterparts. Since the late 1960s, a significant number of U.S. in- P. 48; Wong, 1983, P. 370).6 Given the stiff business competition, Asian male con- formal sector occupations have recruited primarily female immigrant workers. The tractors have had to exploit the labor of immigrant women to survive. The steady garment industry is a top employer of immigrant women from Asia and Latin influx of female limited-English-speaking immigrants puts the sweatshop owner America. The growth of U.S. apparel production, especially in the large cities, has in an extremely powerful position. Because these women have few alternative job been largely driven by the influx of low-wage labor from these two regions (Blu- opportunities, the owners can virtually dictate the terms of employment: They can menberg & Ong, 1994, P. 325). In Los Angeles, Latin American immigrants (mainly pay low wages, ignore overtime work, provide poor working conditions, and fire from Mexico) and Asian immigrants (from China, Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, and anyone who is dissatisfied or considered to be a troublemaker (Wong, 1983, p. 370). Cambodia) make up the majority of the garment industry workforce; in New York, In retaliation, various unionization and employment organizations such as AIWA Chinese and Dominican workers predominate; and in San Francisco, Chinese and have worked for the empowerment of immigrant Asian women workers in the gar- other Asians prevail (Loucky, Soldatenko, Scott, & Bonacich, 1994, p. 345). The mi- ment industry as well as in the hotel and electronics industries (Lowe, 1997, p. 275) croelectronics industry also draws heavily on immigrant women workers from Asia It is important to stress that the problem of exploitation is not primarily gender or (mainly Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan) and from Latin Amer- ethnic based but also inherent in the organization of the garment industry. Em- ica (mainly Mexico) for its low-paid manufacturing assembly work (Green, 1980; bedded in a larger, hierarchically organized structure, Asian immigrant contrac- Katz & Kemnitzer, 1984; Snow, 1986). Of the more than 200,000 people employed tors both victimize the workers they employ and are victimized by those higher up in the hierarchy. The contracting system insulates the industry's principal benefit- n California's Silicon Valley microelectronics industry in 1980, approximately 50% ciaries-the manufacturers, retailers, and bankers-from the grim realities of the (100,000 employees) were in production-related jobs; half of these production- sweatshops and the workers' hostility (Bonacich, 1994). Against these more domi- related workers (50,000-70,000) worked in semiskilled operative jobs (Siegel & Borock, 1982). In a study of Silicon Valley's semiconductor manufacturing indus- nant forces, Asian American men and women have, occasionally, casionally, formed a shared sense of ethnic and class solidarity that can, at times, blunt some of the antagonism try, Karen Hossfeld (1994) reports that the industry's division of labor is highly in the contractor-worker relationship (Bonacich, 1994, p. 150; Wong, 1983, p. 370). skewed by gender and race. At each of the 15 subcontracting firms (which special- ize in unskilled and semiskilled assembly work) that Hossfeld observed, between
92 YEN LE ESPIRITU ASIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 93 80% and 100% of workers were Third World immigrants, the majority of were women (p. 72). Based on interviews with employers and workers at these hey Hossfeld concludes that "the lower the skill and pay level of the job, the greatly Stockton, these programs have focused on the education of the more employable proportion of Third World immigrant women tends to be" (p. 73). refugee women (Ui, 1991, Pp. 166-167). In particular, refugee women are trained to work in social service agencies serving their coethnics primarily in secretarial, In labor-intensive industries such as garment and microelectronics, emple clerical, and interpreter positions. In a refugee community with limited economic prefer to hire immigrant women, as compared with immigrant men, because, opportunities, social service programs-even though they are usually part-time, believe that women can afford to work for less, do not mind dead-end jobs, . ethnic specific, and highly susceptible to budget cuts-provide one of the few new are more suited physiologically to certain kinds of detailed and routine work. to job opportunities for this population, and in this case, most of these jobs go to the following comment from a male manager at a microelectronics subcontracting. women. Relying on gender stereotypes, social service agency executives have pre- sembly plant typifies this "gender logic": "The relatively small size [of many And ferred women over men, claiming that women are ideal workers because they are and Mexican women] makes it easier for them to sit quietly for long periods of time. more patient and easier to work with than men (Ui, 1991, p. 169). Thus, in the Cam- doing small detail work that would drive a large person like [him] crazy" (Hosstalk bodian community of Stockton, it is often women, and not men, who have rela- 1994, P. 74). As Linda Lim (1983) observes, it is the "comparative disadvantage of women tively greater economic opportunities and who become the primary breadwinners in the wage-labor market that gives them a comparative advantage vis-a-vis men in their families. On the other hand, stripped of opportunities for employment, men often lose their "place to be" in the new society (Ui, 1991, pp. 170-171). in the occupations and industries where they are concentrated-so-called female The shifts in the resources of immigrant men and women have challenged the ghettoes of employment" (p. 78). A White male production manager and hiring su. patriarchal authority of Asian men. Men's loss of status and power-not only in pervisor in a Silicon Valley assembly shop discusses his formula for hiring: the public but also in the domestic arena-places severe pressure on their sense of Just three things I look for in hiring [entry-level, high-tech manufacturing operatives]: well-being, leading in some instances to spousal abuse and divorce (Luu, 1989, p. small, foreign, and female. You find those three things and you're pretty much auto- 68). A Korean immigrant man describes his frustrations over changing gender roles matically guaranteed the right kind of workforce. These little foreign gals are grate- and expectations : ful to be hired-very, very grateful-no matter what. (Hossfeld, 1994, p. 65) In Korea [my wife] used to have breakfast ready for me. . .. She didn't do it anymore because she said she was too busy getting ready to go to work. If I complained she In Hawaii, Korean immigrant women likewise had an easier time securing em- talked back at me, telling me to fix my own breakfast. . . . I was very frustrated about ployment than men did because of their domestic skills and because of the demand her, started fighting and hit her. (Yim, 1978, as cited in Mazumdar, 1989, p. 18) for service workers in restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and factories (Chai, 1987). These examples illustrate the interconnections of race, class, and gender. On one hand, According to a 1979 survey, marital conflict was one of the top four problems of patriarchal and racist ideologies consign women to a secondary and inferior posi- Vietnamese refugees in the United States (Davidson, 1979, as cited in Luu, 1989, tion in the capitalist wage-labor market. On the other hand, their very disadvan p. 69). A Vietnamese man, recently divorced after 10 years of marriage, blamed his tage enhances women's employability over that of men in certain industries, thus wife's new role and newfound freedom for their breakup: affording them an opportunity to sharpen their claims against patriarchal author- ity in their homes. Back in the country, my role was only to bring home money from work, and my wife The shifts in women's and men's access to economic and social resources is most would take care of the household. Now everything has changed. My wife had to work acute among disadvantaged Southeast Asian refugees (Donnelly, 1994; Kibria, as hard as I did to support the family. Soon after, she demanded more power at home. 1993). The lives of the Cambodian refugees in Stockton, California, provide an ex- In other words, she wanted equal partnership. I am so disappointed! I realized that things ample (Ui, 1991). In Stockton, an agricultural town in which the agricultural jobs are different now , but I could not help feeling the way I do. It is hard to get rid of or have already been taken by Mexican workers, the unemployment rate for Cam- change my principles and beliefs which are deeply rooted in me. (Luu, 1989, p. 69) bodian men is estimated to be between 80% and 90%. Unemployed for long pe Loss of status and power has similarly led to depression and anxieties in Hmong riods of time, these men gather at the corners of the enclaves to drink and gam- males. In particular, the women's ability-and the men's inability-to earn money ble. In contrast, Cambodian women have transformed their traditional roles and for households "has undermined severely male omnipotence" (Irby & Pon, 1988, skills-as providers of food and clothing for family and community members and P. 112). Male unhappiness and helplessness can be detected in the following joke as small traders-into informal economic activities that contribute cash to family incomes. Women have also benefited more than men from government-funded lan- told at a family picnic: "When we get on the plane to go back to Laos, the first thing guage and job-training programs. Because traditionally male jobs are scarce in we will do is beat up the women!" The joke-which generated laughter by both men and women-drew upon a combination of "the men's unemployability, the
94 YEN LE ESPIRITU ASIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 95 sudden economic value placed on women's work, and men's fear of losing in their families" (Donnelly, 1994, PP. 74-75). CONCLUSION The shifts in the resources of men and women have created an opportunity women to contest the traditional hierarchies of family life (Chai, 1987; Kibrialy ( My review of the existing literature on Asian immigrant salaried professionals, Williams, 1989, p. 157). Existing data indicate, however, that working-class A ; fe self-employed entrepreneurs, and wage laborers suggests that economic constraints migrant women have not used their new resources to radically restructure this and opportunities) have reconfigured gender relations within contemporary Asian family system but only to redefine it in a more satisfying manner (Kibria, 1993). . America society. The patriarchal authority of Asian immigrant men, particularly cultural conceptions, such as the belief that the male should be the head of he those of the working class, has been challenged due to the social and economic household, remain despite the economic contributions of women. Nancy Donnie losses that they suffered in their transition to the status of men of color in the United (1994) reports that although Hmong women contribute the profits of their needs States. On the other hand, the recent growth of female-intensive industries-and the racist and sexist "preference" for the labor of immigrant women-has en- work sales to the family economy, the traditional construction of Hmong womens hanced women's employability over that of men and has changed their role to that "creators of beauty, skilled in devotion to their families, and embedded in a so of a coprovider, if not primary provider, for their families. These shifts in immi- order dominated by men" has not changed (p. 185). In the following quotation, grant men's and women's access to economic and social resources have not occurred Cambodian wife describes her reluctance to upset her husband's authority: without friction. Men's loss of status in both public and private arenas has placed severe pressures on the traditional family, leading at times to resentment, spousal If we lived in Cambodia I would have behaved differently toward my husband. Over abuse, and divorce. For the women's part, Asian women's ability to restructure the there we have to always try to be nice to the husband. Wives don't talk back, but some. traditional patriarchy system is often constrained by their social-structural loca- times I do that here a little bit, because I have more freedom to say what I think here. tion-as racially subordinated immigrant women-in the dominant society. In the However, I am careful not to speak too disrespectfully to him, and in that way, I think best scenario, responding to the structural barriers in the larger society, both hus- I am different from the Americans. (Welaratna, 1993, p. 233) bands and wives become more interdependent and equal as they are forced to rely on each other, and on the traditional family and immigrant community, for eco- The traditional division of household labor also remains relatively intact. In a study nomic security and emotional support. On the other hand, to the extent that the of Chinatown women, Loo and Ong (1982) found that despite their employment out- traditional division of labor and male privilege persists, wage work adds to the side the home, three fourths of the working mothers were solely responsible for all women's overall workload. The existing research indicates that both of these ten- household chores. In her study of Vietnamese American families, Kibria (1993) argues dencies exist, though the increased burdens for women are more obvious. that Vietnamese American women (and children) walk an "ideological tightrope"- struggling both to preserve the traditional Vietnamese family system and to enhance their power within the context of this system. According to Kibria, the traditional fam- NOTES ily system is valuable to Vietnamese American women because it offers them economic 1. Certainly, these three categories are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. They protection and gives them authority, as mothers, over the younger generation. are also linked in the sense that there is mobility between them, particularly from profes- For the wage laborers then, the family-and the traditional patriarchy within it- sional to small-business employment (Chen, 1992, p. 142). Nevertheless, they represent per- becomes simultaneously a bastion of resistance to race and class oppression and an haps the most important sociological groupings within the contemporary Asian immigrant instrument for gender subordination (Glenn, 1986, p. 193). Women also preserve the community (Ong & Hee, 1994, P. 31). traditional family system-albeit in a tempered form-because they value the prom 2 . The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended immigration of laborers for 10 years. The ise of male economic protection. Although migration may have equalized or re- 1917 Immigration Act delineated a "barred zone" from whence no immigrants could come. The versed the economic resources of working-class men and women, women's earnings 1924 Immigration Act denied entry to virtually all Asians. The 1934 Tydings-Mcduffie Act re- continue to be too meager to sustain their economic independence from men. Be- duced Filipino immigration to 50 persons a year. The 1965 Immigration Act abolished "national cause the wage each earns is low, only by pooling incomes can a husband and wife origins" as a basis for allocating immigration quotas to various countries-Asian countries were earn enough to support a family. Finally, like many ethnic, immigrant, poor, and finally placed on equal footing. working-class women, working-class Asian women view work as an opportunity to 3. After Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea were the second- and third-largest raise the family's living standards and not only as a path to self-fulfillment or even source countries of immigrants, respectively. Three other Asian countries-China, India, upward mobility as idealized by the White feminist movement. As such, employ and Vietnam-were among the 10 major source countries of U.S. immigrants in the 1980s (Min, 1995b, p. 12). ment is defined as an extension of their family obligations-of their roles as moth. 4. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, 43% of Asian men and 32% of Asian women 25 ers and wives (Kim & Hurh, 1988, p. 162; Pedraza, 1991; Romero, 1992). years of age and older had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 23% and 17%, re-
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