Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mail Order Brides

During the first large wave of Asian immigration in the twentieth century, many Japanese and Korean women came to the United States as picture brides. The picture bride system, according to author Yen Le Espiritu, was a form of “arranged marriage facilitated by the exchange of photographs.” A Japanese or Korean immigrant man would look at a photograph of a potential wife back home and, if he “liked what he saw,” send for her to join him in the United States. Some Japanese and Korean women volunteered to become picture brides, seeing migration to the States as an adventure as well as a chance to escape the restricted life women frequently led in their homelands. As one Korean woman put it, “then I could get to America… that land of freedom with streets paved with gold!”

Nearly a century later, picture brides have been replaced by mail order brides. But the two practices diverge in a substantial way. Whereas Korean and Japanese picture brides generally married men of the same national background, the mail order bride system involves men seeking wives, and women seeking husbands, from ethnic groups other than their own. The homelands of modern mail order brides also differ from those of yesterday’s picture brides. The majority of
women come from the Philippines, Thailand, Latin America and the former Soviet Union, with a smattering of women from North and sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the men who “order” these women live in developed regions, such as Australia, North America, Western Europe, and Japan.