WHA 2014

H. Micheal Tarver's picture

"A Dangerous Union: Interracial Marriage and Contested Identities in Mexico and the United States, 1880-1930" by Mee-Ae Kim, The College of Idaho, Caldwell, ID,  and "Bound with a Bow of Red Tape: The BSI and Gender Inequities at the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1930s" by Marjorie Sanchez-Walker, California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock, CA, USA. July 18, 2014.

Kim: In the 1920s, a Caucasian woman named Mrs. Park and her son were deported from the United States because her husband, a Korean, had been deported. As a spouse of an “alien ineligible for citizenship,” Mrs. Park shared her husband’s fate. In Mexico, women like Paula Aoyama, born in Morelos, Mexico, married a Japanese man and officially registered with the government as an “immigrant born in Mexico” These cases reveal the complexities of gendered and racialized citizenship whereby a woman’s racial and national identity was malleable and imprecise. For women who married particular immigrant men (as opposed to foreign men, in general), their decision resulted in an ambiguous legal status within their natal country. In an era of suffrage and public discourse about women’s place and role in the national polity, a woman’s choice of spouse could transform her racial status by affiliation and thus her legal position and rights. Although scholars have investigated interracial marriages in the United States and Mexico, those works primarily concern relationships between native-born men and women from different racial backgrounds. The experiences of women who married Asian immigrant men may provide insights beyond state regulations on race and love. My paper will explore the complicated and murky history of marriage between American and Mexican women to Asian immigrant men with emphasis on women’s nationality, citizenship, and race in the age of immigration restriction.

Sanchez-Walker: The 1930s presented a unique opportunity to examine how American immigration policies may,or may not, reflect institutionalized gender inequities at the time. Fueled by the Great Depression and exacerbated by growing restrictions on the “open back door” of the past, admissions for the decade slipped to unprecedented lows. Of the newcomers women were the majority and at no port of entry was the increased numbers of women seeking admission more evident than the U.S.-Mexico crossing at Ciudad Juárez-El Paso. Case studies reveal detailed accounts of women whose denials or detainments represent the specific circumstance of gender inequality in U.S. immigration policy. The first effort to restrict admissions at the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1880s targeted two undesirable groups: immigrants of Chinese descent and single women. By the 1920s Mexican nationals were required to present proof of citizenship and to pay a head tax. These requirements tightened in 1929 and the commitment to family reunification often was ignored. While men were vulnerable to general immigration restrictions none specifically targeted men. Those most blatant of gender discrimination included marriage to a man ineligible for
citizenship; married to an American under the Expatriation Act only to have that status reversed under the Cable Act; those who had volunteered for repatriation; or a widow, hence a single woman. Collectively these women’s stories illuminate the unique hardships endured by women dealing with rigid regulations that expose gender inequities in American immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1930s.

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