Cross-Border Marriages: Gender and Mobility in Transnational Asia

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9780812238303: Cross-Border Marriages: Gender and Mobility in Transnational Asia

Illuminating how international marriages are negotiated, arranged, and experienced, Cross-Border Marriages is the first book to chart marital migrations involving women and men of diverse national, ethnic, and class backgrounds. The migrations studied here cross geographical borders of provinces, rural-urban borders within nation-states, and international boundaries, including those of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, the United States, and Canada. Looking at assumptions about the connection between international marriages and poverty, opportunism, and women's mobility, the book draws attention to ideas about global patterns of inequality that are thought to pressure poor women to emigrate to richer countries, while simultaneously suggesting the limitations of such views.

Breaking from studies that regard the international bride as a victim of circumstance and the mechanisms of international marriage as traffic in commodified women, these essays challenge any simple idea of global hypergamy and present a nuanced understanding where a variety of factors, not the least of which is desire, come into play. Indeed, most contemporary marriage-scapes involve women who relocate in order to marry; rarely is it the men. But Nicole Constable and the volume contributors demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, these brides are not necessarily poor, nor do they categorically marry men who are above them on the socioeconomic ladder.

Although often women may appear to be moving "up" from a less developed country to a more developed one, they do not necessarily move higher on the chain of economic resources. Complicating these and other assumptions about international marriages, the essays in this volume draw from interviews and rich ethnographic materials to examine women's and men's agency, their motivations for marriage, and the importance of familial pressures and obligations, cultural imaginings, fantasies, and desires, in addition to personal and economic factors.

Border-crossing marriages are significant for what they reveal about the intersection of local and global processes in the everyday lives of women and men whose marital opportunities variably yield both rich possibilities and bitter disappointments.

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About the Author:

Nicole Constable, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography and "Mail Order" Brides, among other works.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION

The narrator and protagonist in a surrealistic short story by Yoko Tawada (1998) entitled "Missing Heels" is identified as a Japanese "mail-order bride." The story opens with her arrival in an unspecified European country to live with the husband she has yet to meet face-to-face. In an attempt to learn more about the local culture, she recruits the help of a woman teacher. The interaction between the two women encapsulates some of the stark contrasts between perspectives of and about foreign brides. The story, told from the bride's first-person perspective, also hints at some of the paradoxes of the idea that women aspire to and often achieve upward mobility through such marriages. The bride recounts how the woman teacher carefully looked her over and then informed her that

recently women of an inferior sort were being brought into the country from poorer parts of the world, and since far too many of the men were interested in them, marriage opportunities for her more liberated countrywomen were becoming more and more limited. She sat there waiting for my reaction.
"I didn't know that," I replied.
"These are people who marry only for money," she went on, "who come from poor villages, and get divorced and go back to them when they've saved up enough. They're uneducated, which makes it extremely difficult to teach them what living as man and wife really means...."
"But I'm not like those women," I declared. "I gave this decision lots of thought, and came here of my own free will."
"Poor people have no will of their own," she said in a scathing tone of voice. "Whatever they do, they have no choice in the matter—poverty drives them to it." Having spoken her mind she sat, perhaps in anticipation of a counterattack, with her hands in lightly gripped fists and her chin thrust slightly forward, waiting for an answer.
Although I'd never made up my mind about anything before, this marriage had definitely been my own decision, so being told that poor people have no choice in anything was more than I could stand. "What do you know about someone you're meeting for the first time?" I fired back (Tawada 1998:104-5, emphasis added).
This fictional interaction between a bitter European teacher and an immigrant bride is noteworthy not only because it neatly elucidates many common stereotypes of foreign brides or so-called mail-order brides but also because of the bride's refusal to accept such claims. The passage complicates common assumptions about the connection between poverty, opportunism, women's mobility, and the assumed "lack of free will" or lack of agency of foreign women who marry local men. It draws attention to ideas about global patterns of inequality that are thought to pressure poor women to immigrate to richer countries, where their marriages deprive "superior" local women of husbands. Yet it simultaneously suggests the limitations of such views, since the bride is from Japan (a wealthy and "advanced" nation) and has married into a small and seemingly remote European town of her own free will, as she insists. European husbands are depicted as scarce and desirable instruments of mobility, who are eager to marry "inferior" but available foreign women, and who in so doing upset the local status quo. Yet the husband also emerges as a complex figure, despite the fact that he remains invisible throughout most of the story. He provides his wife with shelter in a large house and leaves her a daily allowance. She hears him move about, imagines him in various forms in her dreams, and occasionally glimpses him watching her. Only in the last scene does he finally appear, in the bizarre form of a dead squid.

This story is remarkable for the way in which it challenges prevailing assumptions about "mail-order brides" as simply victims or trafficked women. It allows the bride to speak for herself, assert her self-determination, and tell her own story. Her voice as narrator simultaneously denies her the lack of agency and the victimhood that the local teacher and others attribute to foreign brides. Ultimately, we know little about her background or that of her husband, but what we do know is enough to disrupt the popular logic of the passive and desperate Asian bride who escapes from poverty and backwardness to a wealthy and advanced West.

The chapters in this book draw on stories, conversations, interviews, vignettes, and ethnographic descriptions, as well as materials from the popular media, introduction agencies and marriage brokers. The authors examine the varied perspectives, motivations, and experiences of brides and grooms—and, in some cases, their family members—as they imagine, enter into, resist, or promote particular sorts of cross-border marriages. While our modes of writing differ from Tawada's, our purpose is in some ways similar: collectively, we question many of the bald assumptions about the passivity or desperation of foreign brides; disrupt simplistic notions about upward marital mobility; and offer close ethnographic scrutiny and deep analysis of the local and global processes that make such marriages imaginable and realizable. We seek to convey the variety of experiences among a diversity of Asian women. Like Tawada, several contributors question the popular stereotypes of foreign brides as mail-order brides, commodities, or trafficked women. Yet while we stress the existence of women's and men's agency, we also recognize the limits and different degrees of agency they exhibit, and in some cases the presence and pressure that may be exerted by parents, siblings, and children. We also consider the varied and uneven ways in which economic factors, familial obligations, cultural fantasies and imaginings, and personal motives may come into play. Collectively, we call to mind the multiple ways in which international cross-border marriages are linked to wider regional, national, global, and transnational processes, while at the same time we acknowledge many of the ways in which such international marriages are not entirely new. Drawing on ethnographic studies of marriages that span geographically from China's hinterlands, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan, to India, and to Canada and the United States, we consider what types of borders are crossed, how, and by whom. How are such border crossings gendered? How are such marriages initiated, arranged, or negotiated? In what sense can these marriages be considered "hypergamous" (upwardly mobile for women), and what are the paradoxes of marital mobility that might simultaneously be considered upward, downward, or lateral, depending on whether we consider class, lifestyle, education, social status, or geographical mobility? As we suggest, greater distances may be associated with new forms of empowerment and also disempowerment for women. Moreover, we pay special attention to how such marriages build on brides' and grooms' contradictory transnational fantasies, desires, and imaginings of marriage, tradition, and modernity.

GENDER AND GLOBAL MARRIAGE-SCAPES

In recent decades, amid new and expanding forms of globalization and capital flows, increased time/space compression facilitated by rapid electronic forms of communication, and the emergence of what Arjun Appadurai calls a "global imagination" (1996), marriages that cross the borders of nation-states have become increasingly common, although they have—until recently—captured relatively little scholarly attention. Such marriages are especially interesting because they do not represent a global free-for-all in which all combinations—regardless of class, nationality, ethnicity, or gender, for example—are possible. Rather, they form marriage-scapes that are shaped and limited by existing and emerging cultural, social, historical, and political-economic factors. They are also shaped by what Patricia Pessar and Sarah Mahler call-building on the work of Doreen Massey-the "gendered geographies of power" that underlie all transnational migrations (2001:5).

Recently emerging transnational marriage-scapes undoubtedly reflect certain broadly gendered patterns. A majority of international marriage migrants are women, and most of these women move from poorer countries to wealthier ones, from the less developed global "south" to the more industrialized "north"—from parts of Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union, to Western Europe, North America, Australia, and wealthier regions of East Asia—echoing some of the common patterns of women's labor migration (see Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2002, Piper and Roces 2003).

The Philippines is a popular place of origin of marriage migrants, as it is for labor migrants. Immigration figures from the Philippines clearly illustrate one facet of the gendered pattern of marriage migration. Of the over 175,000 Filipinos engaged or married to foreigners between 1989 and 1999, over 91 percent involved Filipino women. The geographic distribution of the foreign partners is not surprising when we consider the historical, colonial, and postcolonial ties between the Philippines and the United States and Japan. Approximately 40 percent (over 70,000) of the foreign partners are from the United States; 30 percent (over 53,000) from Japan; 8.8 percent from Australia; 4.2 percent from Germany; 3.8 percent from Canada; and 1.9 percent from the United Kingdom (Commission on Filipinos Overseas 2000). The remaining 11 percent represent marriage partners or fiancés from other parts of the world, mainly Europe or Asia. Several chapters in this volume reflect the diversity of destinations and experiences of Filipina brides. Nobue Suzuki writes about marriages between Filipinas and Japanese men; Nancy Abelmann and Hyunhee Kim look at a failed marriage—arranged through the Unification Church—between a Filipina and a South Korean man; and Nicole Constable describes the range of Internet introduction services that facilitate introductions of Filipinas and Chinese women to U.S. men.

Women are disproportionally represented among immigrants to the United States, especially among marriage migrants. Marriage migration to the United States almost tripled between 1960 and 1997, increasing from 9 percent to 25 percent of all immigration. Out of almost 202,000 legal marriage migrants to the United States in 1997, 61 percent of those who married U.S. citizens and 85 percent of those who married permanent residents—presumably many of whom were their co-ethnics—were women (USDOJ-INS 1999a). Hung Cam Thai's chapter describes a pattern of intra-ethnic, familially arranged marriages between women from Vietnam and Viet Kieu men living in the United States.

Gendered patterns of marriage migration are also striking in Japan. Between 1965 and 1970, the small number of Japanese international marriages were between Japanese women and foreign men, but after that, especially after the late 1980s, the number of marriages between Japanese men and foreign women increased dramatically (Piper 1997). According to the Japanese Welfare Ministry, there were 5,000 marriages to foreigners in Japan in 1970, 10,000 in 1983, and 20,000 in 1989, and almost 27,000 in 1993 (Sadamatsu 1996, cited in Piper 1997). Out of over 50,000 Filipino-Japanese couples overall in the late 1990s, all but 1 percent are said to involve Filipinas and Japanese men (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 2000, Suzuki in this volume). In 1993, 75 percent of Japanese international marriages were between foreign women and Japanese men. Filipina women accounted for 32 percent, North or South Korean women 25 percent; Chinese women 23 percent; and Thai women 10 percent (Piper 1997, see also Nakamatsu 2002, Suzuki 2003a).

In the People's Republic of China, we see other gendered patterns of marital migration, which are clearly linked to recent political and economic changes in the post-Mao period. Rural de-collectivization, labor surplus in the countryside, booming cities, and declining enforcement of the household registration (hukou) system have led to dramatic increases in the rate of rural-urban migration since the early 1980s. Domestic marriage migrations have also followed suit, with vast increases in the number of women who marry across greater geographic distances (Fan and Huang 1998, Gilmartin and Tan 2002). With China's "opening up" to the outside, the number of women marrying foreign residents also began to increase. The first post-Mao marriages between Chinese and foreigners in the 1980s involved mainland Chinese women and overseas Chinese men in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere (Kang 1998, see also Clark 2001). The number of Chinese international marriages increased dramatically after the mid-1980s, with approximately 20,000 Chinese marrying abroad each year until 1990; over 30,000 per year in the early 1990s; 50,000 a year by 1998; and almost 80,000 in 2001 (China Statistical Yearbook 2002). The increased popularity and visibility of marriages between mainland Chinese women and men in Taiwan is attested to by a limit imposed in 1996 on the number of brides who can legally enter Taiwan (A. Huang 1996, cited in Scholes 1997:3). The quota for Chinese migrant partners in Taiwan is 3,600 per year, a fourth of the total applicants, thus propelling the market for brides from Vietnam and elsewhere (Wang and Chang 2002:111). Growing public and social concerns about the rapid increase in such international cross-border marriages are expressed in the Taiwan, Hong Kong, and U.S. overseas Chinese popular media (see Shih 1998 and 1999, Li 2001).

Several chapters in this volume reflect the diversity of marriage patterns involving women in or from the People's Republic of China, and collectively they suggest some of the wider national and global implications of increased marriage mobility, as women marry into more desirable locations within and beyond China's borders, creating a shortage of brides in more remote rural regions (see also Fan and Huang 1998, Gilmartin and Tan 2002). Emily Chao analyzes the highly publicized cases of "kidnapped" rural brides within China and of Naxi minority women from the minority region of Lijiang in southwestern China, who have recently begun to marry across more distant borders. Chao examines the changing meanings of elopement (paohun) and kidnapping (guaihun) within the Naxi context and suggests that marriage strategies have been influenced by China's family and population policies and by the uneven pattern of development that characterizes the post-Mao period of reform. Louisa Schein looks at two recent forms of out-marriage undertaken by Miao minority women. The Miao, a large minority group from southern mountainous agricultural regions of China, have historically tended to be endogamous (to marry within their group). In recent years, however, Miao women have been courted and wed by two different kinds of suitors: Han Chinese men from more populous coastal regions of China; and occasionally, Hmong co-ethnics who emigrated from Laos to the United States in the post-Vietnam War era. Ellen Oxfeld traces a pattern that involves Hakka Chinese women from the Hakka community in Calcutta, India, who marry Hakka men in Toronto, Canada, thus creating a marriage shortage for Hakka men in Calcutta, who increasingly turn to the Hakka "homeland" in rural Mei Xian in Guangdong Province, ...

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