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Asian women often caught in a dangerous proposition

Minorities Report: Immigrant brides sometimes find big trouble in new life


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Chinese community leader Stephen Ying has had to help Chinese women left stranded and isolated after being brought here by American men.In recent years, Stephen Ying has been called repeatedly to help local women in distress.

The women have something in common: All are products of a trend that some people in the Asian community say is a perfect reflection of the dangers of ethnic stereotyping.

Some have been physically abused by husbands, others have been treated like virtual slaves in their own homes. The trend is derogatorily referred to as Yellow Fever — white men attracted to Asian women.

Ying, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and a longtime leader in Portland’s Chinese community, says more than half of the couples in his social circle are Asian-born women — mostly Chinese — who married white Portland men.

James Mei, a local attorney who has handled a number of Asian immigration cases, says he is seeing more and more local white men bringing back Asian wives. Most, he says, are making their introductions on websites before traveling to Asia to meet the women they intend to marry.

The Web is full of sites devoted to helping white men find Asian brides. In addition, countless Asian women use these sites seeking American men to marry, a variation often called Vanilla Fever.

Whether the couples find true love or not isn’t the point, says Rebecca Kim, a Pepperdine University sociologist who writes extensively on Asian American issues. The trend of white men searching for Asian women is based on a stereotype, of the Asian woman, even an educated professional Asian woman, who is both exotic and more willing than American women to put her husband’s happiness first. Kim says Asian women have become “hyper-feminized” in Western culture.

The stereotypes cut both ways, Kim says. Many of the women advertise online for American husbands they believe will provide a more egalitarian marriages.

But relationships founded on stereotypes can be dangerous, according to Kim, once reality takes over.

The dark side of Asian Fever, says Kim, appears when an Asian bride and her white husband find neither is exactly what the other anticipated. The woman may find herself a victim of abuse with nowhere to turn.

She has no family here, few friends and she’s unlikely to be familiar with the resources available to an abused woman. The prospect of divorce or separation might carry with it the potential loss of citizenship.

A popular practice

Annie Neal, domestic violence coordinator for Multnomah County, says she hears about such scenarios occurring in the county, but can’t track them separately from other domestic violence cases, so there is no way to know how common they are here. Nationally, more than 9,000 petitions were filed in 2011 by domestic violence victims married to U.S citizens who were hoping to stay in the United States.

Kim says these types of marriages often start on a rocky foundation. The man has put up a considerable amount of money traveling to Asia and bringing home his bride.

“You don’t have an equal power dynamic for the couple,” Kim says. “You’re not talking about two individuals meeting in equal status and coming to a decision together. The likelihood of abuse in the relationship gets heightened by that.”

Ying hasn’t seen problems with the matches between successful American men and educated, English-speaking Chinese women. He’s more concerned with marriages he’s seen initiated by local men who seek less-educated Chinese women.

“They say they have money so girls fall into it and then when they come they find (the men) don’t have any money,” Ying says.

One local Chinese woman was caught up in a physically abusive marriage, Ying says, until he helped her pack a bag and return to China after six months here.

In another case, Ying says he is attempting to aid a woman who is working a day job at a fast-food franchise and a night job cleaning hotel rooms after having been brought here from China. Her American husband is counting on his wife, who speaks little English, to support him. And Ying says the husband tells the wife if she leaves she will lose her immigration status.

“She’s still married because she doesn’t know how to get out of the marriage and she’s afraid to be alone,” Ying says.

Ying says he has confronted the husband, who has told him going to China for a bride is a popular practice.

“All his friends are doing that, telling each other you can get a free woman,” Ying says.