‘Intersectionality’ is another useful theoretical basis for studying Asian American women’s experience, for it brings the core problems from different domains to the analysis. It helps the studied group to “invent and inhabit identities that register the effects of differentiated and uneven power, permitting them to envision and enact new social relations grounded in multiple axes of intersecting, situated knowledge.” (Chun, Lipsitz, and Shin, 2013) The theory is seen in action in Jew Law Ying’s ‘Coaching Book’ – a touching historical document that brings out the extent of Asian American women’s struggle for citizenship in the USA. The work is a translation of the ‘coaching book’ which the author’s father sent to her mother prior to the latter’s long voyage to America. The book lists a long set of questions that her mother could possibly receive from immigration officials upon her alighting ashore. It then goes on to give the answers she is expected to give to avoid contradictions with the information already gleaned from her husband. The irony of the situation is that Mrs. Law Ying had to be coached in this way not so much to deceive interrogating officers as to remain consistent with her husband’s utterances. Later in her life Mrs. Law Ying would state that she qualified for citizenship by speaking honestly and not due to the help offered via the book. This makes the book all the more a symbol of love. It stands as a talisman of romance that an Asian American woman received from her husband from a far away land.
Yet, the Coaching Book also stands for patriarchal social arrangements that were the norm in late modern China. In retrospect the coaching project is impressive in its simplicity and earnestness, with its detailed biographical minutiae, its representative and erroneous village map and the obviously banality of the questions. But there is a bitter reality behind Law Ying’s particular case of romantic success. For every woman that succeeds the immigration exam, there is a multitude that fails. This confines the latter to severe pecuniary penalties at best and deportation at worst. Those who fall between these two extremes face the unsavoury prospect of a life wasted in prostitution or menial labour. These resistances had an effect in the pattern of Chinese immigration to the United States – it markedly reduced the proportion of female immigrants. The statistics given below is a telling sign of the disparity between the experiences of Asian American men and women.
“In 1920, females comprised 12.6 percent of the U.S. Chinese population; by 1940, that figure stood at 30.0 percent…so this shortage among the Chinese in the United States is a matter of degree rather than a difference in kind. Where the Chinese pattern deviates from the norm is that the imbalance in the sex ratio lasted for more than a century rather than for just a few decades”. (Sucheng Chan)