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Asian America has masked a series of internal tensions.In order to produce a sense of racial solidarity, Asian American activists framed social injustices in terms of race, veiling other competing social categories such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and nationality.Far from being predatory, many of the first Asian women to come to the U. in the mid-1800s were disadvantaged Chinese women, who were tricked, kidnapped, or smuggled into the country to serve the predominantly male Chinese community as prostitutes.The impression that Asian women were prostitutes, born at that time, "colored the public perception of, attitude toward, and action against all Chinese women for almost a century," writes historian Sucheng Chan.They are putting poor immigrant and refugee Asian women at the forefront of their organizing, thinking globally, and they are making the connections among the politics of labor, health, environment, culture, nationalism, racism, and patriarchy.A different sort of Dragon Lady is emerging -- not a cold-blooded reptile, but a creature who breathes fire.As Asian American scholar Gary Okihiro notes, "Europe's feminization of Asia, its taking possession, working over, and penetration of Asia, was preceded and paralleled by Asian men's subjugation of Asian women." While earnest, hardworking, and vital, these early Asian women radicals couldn't compete with the growing reality that for many Asian American women, there was money to be made. Not surprisingly, large organizations of primarily middle-class East Asian women flourished during these years.
Activists have responded to these new changes with a renewed labor movement that cross borders and industries.
In the pre-World War II years, close to half of all Japanese American women were employed as servants or laundresses in the San Francisco area. government officials thoughtfully arranged for their employment by fielding requests, most of which were for servants.
The World War II internment of Japanese Americans made them especially easy to exploit: they had lost their homes, possessions, and savings when forcibly interned at the camps, Yet, in order to leave, they had to prove they had jobs and homes. The first wave of Asian women's organizing formed out of the Asian American movement of the 1960s, which in turn was inspired by the civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam War movement.
However, conservative and mainstream institutions supported these "model minority" activities because it implied there was a "good" minority in tacit opposition to the "bad" minorities -- African Americans and Latinos.
At the same time, the model minority myth helped countless struggling Asian Americans start businesses and send their kids to Ivy League schools, and was thus consciously upheld by Asian American community leaders.
White feminists and other liberals advanced this feel-good fantasy with celebrations of Asian American culture and people.