AMWF History: Cinematographer James Wong Howe and Author Sanora Babb

If you’ve been busy with back-to-school errands, you might have missed Google’s recent nod to one of Hollywood’s greatest cinematographers, James Wong Howe.

On August 28, 2017, Google released a doodle honoring Howe, who received two Academy Awards for cinematography during his career. According to Google:

Throughout his career, he used lighting, framing, and minimal camera movement to express emotion. He accidentally discovered how to use dark backdrops to create color nuances in black-and-white film. He pioneered using wide-angle lenses, low key lighting, and color lighting. Howe also made early use of the crab dolly, a camera dolly with four wheels and a movable arm supporting the camera.

But Howe was a pioneer for another reason: he married a white woman, author Sanora Babb, in 1937, a time when US anti-miscegenation laws created huge bureaucratic obstacles for interracial couples. (Not surprisingly, they chose to marry elsewhere – Paris, France.) The US wouldn’t officially recognize their marriage until the late 1940s. Not surprisingly, those years weren’t easy on the couple:

Howe would not cohabit with Babb while they were legally unwed, due to his traditional Chinese views, so they maintained separate apartments in the same building. Howe’s studio contract “morals clause” also prohibited him from publicly acknowledging their marriage.

They experienced plenty of racial bigotry as well according to James Lee, Howe and Babb’s grand-nephew:

Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”

Howe would reach the pinnacle of his career in the following decades, winning Academy Awards in cinematography for his work on “The Rose Tattoo” (1955) and “Hud” (1963). Were it not for his illness in the 1970s – he died in 1976 — he might have accomplished even more. “He was reportedly offered the first two Godfather films, but just wasn’t strong enough to accept,” writes James Lee.

By unknown (Paramount Pictures) – http://acertaincinema.com/media-tags/james-wong-howe/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22559661

Let’s remember the extraordinary accomplishments of Howe, and also remember how he and Babb persevered in the name of their interracial marriage.

P.S.: If you’d like to see a sample of Howe’s cinematography, Time magazine compiled a wonderful short video.

P.P.S.: You’ve got to give it to Google for the timing of their doodle – August 28, 2017 would have been James Wong Howe’s 118th birthday, a very auspicious number in Chinese culture.

AMWF History: Mei Quong Tart, A Chinese Gentleman and Leader in Victorian Australia

Mei Quong Tart By Unknown – This image is available from the Manuscripts, Oral History and Pictures Search of the State Library of New South Wales under the Item ID: 441601This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.Deutsch |English |+/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17880332

Mei Quong Tart may have married a white woman (Margaret Scarlett) in the late 1800s, a time when few dared to cross racial lines in the name of love. But he’s known less for his interracial marriage and more as one of the most beloved Chinese public figures in late Victorian Sydney, Australia.

Mei Quong Tart was born in Guangzhou, China, and migrated to the goldfields near New South Wales, Australia when he was only nine years old, accompanied by his uncle. But he was fortunate to have the Simpsons, a well-to-do Scottish family, serve as his guardians:

He was educated by Mrs. Simpson, who took a lively interest in his welfare during the years he remained on the field, and, on leaving, Mr. Simpson gave him a big interest in an important gold claim, which the fortunate young protege turned to the best advantage. Mr. Tart employed about two hundred Chinese and Europeans, and in the course of a few years his mining speculations made him a comparatively wealthy man.

His education and the affluence that surrounded him also turned him into an unusual figure among the Chinese community:

He could sing Scotch songs with singular pathos, recite Burns’ poems with a genuine accent, play Scotch airs on the piano, and jokingly alluded to himself as being a native of Aberdeen.

People would come to think of him as a regular English gentleman.

So it’s not surprising that when he resolved to marry, he chose to marry a Western woman. “…Quong’s good sense asserted itself, for he told his mother that when he did marry, it would be a European, for a Chinese woman in Australia would be but little help for him in carrying out the good works he intended doing.”

That woman turned out to be Margaret Scarlett, who went ahead with the marriage despite objections from her father.

…Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.

I have to wonder, did her family ever take note of Mei Quong Tart’s success as an entrepreneur? His teahouses and restaurants in Sydney were some of the most popular meeting places of the era, where he dazzled patrons with fine tea and even finer service:

His employees were ordered to treat all alike, whether they wore silk dresses or cheap prints, for Quong Tart had long learned that the silk dress did not make the lady, nor the fine black coat the gentleman.

Mei Quong Tart also became a well known philanthropist of his time, including building schools, caring for the poor, and supporting the local arts scene. He campaigned against the scourge of opium addiction in Sydney’s Chinatown.

But no story about Mei Quong Tart is complete without acknowledging the contradiction in his presence. He was a popular Chinese man in a Victorian-era Australia marked by a venomous case of yellow peril:

…a well-known labour man was speaking in public and was pouring out his vials of wrath on “the wretched Chinese,” “everyone of whom,” he said, “he would, if he had his way, drive out of the State.” “Would you do that to Quong Tart,” cried out one from the crowd. “No, certainly not,” replied the Labour orator. “If they were all as good as Tart, I would let them stay here and come here, as they would be sure to be good citizens.”

Mei Quong Tart’s prominence in Sydney and his interest in the welfare of others, including his fellow Chinese, led to his involvement in some of Australia’s tragic anti-Chinese episodes.

For example, consider the case of the Afghan, a steamer carrying a large number of Chinese immigrants bound for Sydney in 1888. While the ship was en route to Australia, anti-Chinese groups successfully lobbied the government to pass a drastic Chinese Restriction Bill that made it impossible for anyone Chinese to land. It didn’t matter if they had all the lawful paperwork – if you were Chinese, you were denied entry. (Just replace “Chinese” with “a citizen of one of seven Muslim majority countries” and it sounds an awful lot like the US immigration brouhaha after Trump abruptly enacted his Muslim Ban 1.0 in early 2017.)

Quong Tart served as a mediator between the Chinese passengers and the government, but even his best efforts couldn’t undo the harm, as this excerpt from a Sydney Morning Herald article shows:

[Quong Tart] says that we can form little idea of the anger that was manifested by the masses in Hong Kong and Canton upon the return of the ships with the rejected immigrants on board. Many of the unfortunate people were landed in their native country in a state of utter destitution….when they landed after their enforced trip back they formed a rather striking illustration of the manner in which Australia had come to regard the question of Chinese immigration. Their want and destitution appealed to the sympathies of their countrymen and their stories of imprisonment on board the ships in Sydney Harbour inflamed the popular anger.

Mei Quong Tart’s service to the Chinese in Australia didn’t go unnoticed by the Chinese government, who named him acting Consular official to China and later conferred the title of Mandarin upon him.

You can learn more about Mei Quong Tart and his fascinating life by reading The Life of Quong Tart or, How A Foreigner Succeeded in A British Community by Margaret Tart.

When Marrying Foreigners Cost American Women Their Citizenship

Mae Franking, featured in the book Eurasian, married a Chinese man at a time when the Expatriation Act meant American women who wed foreigners would lose their citizenship.

Among the many dark, discriminatory chapters in American history, there was a moment in time where my marriage to Jun, a Chinese citizen, would have cost me my American citizenship. As reported by NPR:

In March of 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which decreed, among other things, that U.S. women who married non-citizens were no longer Americans. If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship.

Could you imagine the gut-wrenching choices confronting women of this era who fell in love with foreigners? They included Mae Franking (the subject of Mae Franking’s My Chinese Marriage as well as part of the book Eurasian), whose decision to follow her husband to China was clearly precipitated by the harsh and xenophobic policies of the era (a time when the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in full force). Had I met Jun during that time, would I have had the same courage and devotion to sacrifice my American citizenship in the name of love?

But here’s what’s even worse:

…none of these rules applied to American men when they chose a spouse.

“It’s as though she walks under his umbrella. He puts his arm around her and poof! she’s a citizen,” says Linda Kerber, a professor who teaches gender and legal history at the University of Iowa. “She has had the good sense to come out from these monarchies and opt for an American. She’s a sensible woman, we adore her.”

“Whereas an American-born woman who marries a foreign man, oh my goodness, she is disloyal,” Kerber said.

Doesn’t this just reek of entitlement? The idea that American women must only make themselves available to American men, while the latter are more than welcome to “shop around” internationally for their spouses.

This shameful, double standard of a policy persisted until 1940. That’s more than 30 years that American women were forced into a decision nobody should have to make – your passport or your partner.

As fortunate as I am that I was never presented with this choice, the fact that it even happened should make us pause. After all, xenophobia still remains a virulent force in our society today, from Muslim bans and Islamophobia to the continued fears about China. Once you’re willing to oppose the entry of certain foreign individuals to your country, it’s not that short a jump to the draconian Expatriation Act.

We must all remain vigilant and committed to the words of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. — that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must all remember it wasn’t that long ago that marrying foreigners cost American women their citizenship.

Letticie “Ticie” Pruett and Fong See from Lisa See’s “On Gold Mountain”

on-gold-mountain-by-lisa-seeLisa See’s great-great-grandfather Fong See, a Chinese immigrant who emerged as one of the wealthiest businessmen in LA’s Chinatown, is the heart of her memoir On Gold Mountain. Yet it’s Letticie “Ticie” Pruett, a white woman from Oregon who becomes his partner in marriage and business, who stands out as one of the most pivotal individuals in Fong See’s life.

Fong See and Ticie Pruett first met when she was 18 and stumbled into his shop in Sacramento, California in 1894, asking him for a job. (Fong See owned a factory that manufactured crotchless undergarments for prostitutes.) He refused her the first time around and it took her two more times to convince him to hire her. According to Lisa See’s book,

In the following weeks and months, Fong See continued to be amazed by the auburn-haired apparition who appeared at his front door each morning. She was so different from the other Caucasian women that he had met in his years on the Gold Mountain. She didn’t wear feathers or satin or lace. She was practically and simply dressed – maybe a cotton ruffle here or there. She didn’t stink of perfume or men. Instead, she exuded an intoxicating odor of soap, powder, and lavender water. And while she was in no way like the prostitutes who came to him for their underwear, she was always kind to them, almost respectful.

“That is not a job I would want to have,” she once said. “But I can understand how circumstances could lead a person into becoming a fancy lady.”

Ticie was also kind to Fong See’s workers, who were Chinese. “She didn’t seem afraid to sit down at the work table and companionably sip a cup of tea. Lately she’d even begun to share their pot of noodles, sometimes looking over Fong Lai’s shoulder to watch how he cooked them.”

Even though “…there were few Chinese who had either the courage or the charisma to pursue a white woman,” Fong See thought of marrying Ticie. Of course it was illegal for him to marry a white woman at the time. He also had a wife he had left behind in China; they never consummated their marriage, but he sent her money every month. Still, he wanted Ticie:

….marriage to Ticie would change him from a sojourner to a resident….Fong See and Ticie Pruett made good partners and that was important in this country. For years he had thought, If only I had an American partner who could see the opportunities that I see. Letticie wasn’t a man, but she was much like him. She had bamboo in her heart.

To Ticie, marriage also made sense because “she knew she could help Fong See. He needed her, which was more than she could say for anyone else.” She had already expanded his business to include regular ladies’ underwear and curios like fans and inexpensive porcelain.

The couple married on January 15, 1897 through a contract marriage drawn up by a lawyer. It was the only pathway to a legally recognized union for interracial couples at the time. Also,

Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.

Her family’s response to their marriage symbolizes the national sentiment towards Chinese and interracial marriage.

Ticie and Fong See enjoyed a good partnership in many ways. They moved to Los Angeles, where their business thrived (they focused more on antiques, as Ticie suggested) and eventually expanded into multiple stores. They had five children together, and the two would travel to China together for business and pleasure.

Yet their 22 years of marriage would eventually dissolve. As Lisa See wrote, “The way Fong See saw it, Ticie wouldn’t obey him, didn’t respect him, and refused to see him as the person he had become,” or the potential he had to truly achieve his dreams in China.

In 1921, Fong See secretly married a 16-year-old girl named Ngon Hung from his hometown in China, and the rumors of what happened spread throughout the Los Angeles Chinatown. “Finally, Ticie stole the letter Fong See had written Uncle, took it to a professional letter reader, and discovered positive proof that her husband had married again.” Consequently, Ticie filed for legal separation from Fong See; their contract marriage would become null and void.

Meanwhile, Fong See would go on to marry once again in China in 1929, to a girl named Si Ping who was close in age to Ngon Hung.

Ticie would live until 1942, passing away after the marriage of her daughter Sissee. She would eventually forgive Fong See. But as Lisa See puts it, Ticie’s “one true legacy [was] her love for the family and her belief that her children were stronger together than apart.” Fong See passed away in March 1957.

If you’ve never read Lisa See’s memoir On Gold Mountain, I highly recommend it. The book includes the full story of Fong See and Ticie Pruett and truly encompasses the fascinating and often tragic history of Chinese America itself (including the severe racism that threatened people’s lives).

First Lady Faina Chiang, Russian Wife of President Chiang Ching-kuo

Faina Chiang with her husband Chiang Ching-kuo and their son in Gannan Prefecture. (By Unknown – http://bbs.big5.voc.com.cn/archiver/tid-2084241.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15237990)

Faina Chiang (nee Vahaleva) and Chiang Ching-kuo were one of the few AMWF couples known as a First Lady and President. But while researching this couple for the blog, I found myself continually drawn to the story of Faina herself, for reasons such as this quote from the Taipei Times:

Chiang Fang-liang lived her life with the weighty crown of first lady. While she never enjoyed the glamour associated with the title, she will be remembered for her stoicism.

Faina and Chiang met and married in the former Soviet Union in the 1930s. In 1937, Stalin permitted Chiang to return to China, so the couple moved there. As many of us in international and intercultural marriages know, it can be tough to settle in a foreign country. Yet as the Taipei Times noted, “the Russian bride followed her husband to China.” They added:

Perhaps Vahaleva had thought little of the different language, culture and traditions in China that would no doubt be a great barrier to her, or perhaps her love for her husband gave her all the courage needed.

Reminds me of how many Western women I’ve known have chosen to move to Asia to be with their boyfriends and husbands, despite the challenges.

Faina Chiang and Chiang Ching-kuo in the Soviet Union. (By Unknown – http://tw.people.com.cn/GB/26741/15384128.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16283523)

Speaking of which, Faina encountered another one all too familiar to me – the parental objection, as described in the Taipei Times:

Chiang Kai-shek was reportedly at first dismayed to have a Communist Russian daughter-in-law. But after the two met, Vahaleva — who has been described as possessing the virtues of a traditional Chinese woman to a greater degree than a Chinese woman — soon won the approval of her father-in-law and was given the name Fang-liang.

She even learned Ningbo dialect and forged a good relationship with her mother-in-law, Mao Fumei (Chiang Ching-kuo’s mother and Chiang Kai-shek’s first wife).

Faina Chiang with Chiang Ching-kuo, his mother Mao Fumei, and their first son Chiang Hsiao-wen in 1937. (By Unknown – http://service.photo.sina.com.cn/show_mop.php?type=orignal&pic_id=4a8a18bfg967637c6b217&pm=1&v=690, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15629523)

As first lady, Faina rarely appeared in public, preferring a simple life behind the scenes:

She was used to doing all the household chores herself instead of employing servants. She would ask for her husband’s approval for everything. Private household expenses, such as water and electricity bills, as well as salaries for servants, were all paid directly by Fang-liang from Chiang Ching-kuo’s paycheck, instead of being deducted as public expenses.

At the same time, Faina never entirely lost her foreign customs, as the LA Times reported:

…she often spoke Russian with her husband and preserved several traditions from her homeland.

“Faina regularly greeted her husband at the airport with a hug and a kiss, to the wonder and embarrassment of Chinese spectators,” Jay Taylor wrote in his biography of Chiang Ching-kuo, “The Generalissimo’s Son,” published in 2000.

She braved many tumultuous years in China with her husband, reflected in the fact that three of her four children were born in different cities in China.

Faina Chiang, Chiang Ching-kuo and their family. (By Unknown – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15237453)
And, unbeknownst to her until after his death, she also endured an adulterous husband whose mistress in China bore him two sons. Imagine how heartbreaking it was to discover the truth through media reports of her husband’s death:

After Chiang Ching-kuo died, Fang-liang reportedly asked her second son Hsiao-wu, “I only have three sons, why are there reports saying I have five?”

Hsiao-wu, who had publicly reconciled with his half-brother Chang Hsiao-yan (章孝嚴/John Chang) chose to respond with silence.

On top of that, she suffered the loss of her three sons in the years after her husband passed away. The China Daily called her “the loneliest woman in Taipei”:

She had no real friends and no descendants close to her. Her closest relatives all lived overseas and even after her death, her only daughter was unable to attend the funeral because she herself was seriously ill.

How tragic.

Faina Chiang Fang-liang in 1944, cropped from the image at http://lz.book.sohu.com/chapter-1251-4-2.html

Faina died of complications from lung cancer on December 15, 2004 at the age of 88. Even though she eschewed the public spotlight, she’ll always be remembered for her hard work, modesty and devotion to her family.

The Love Affair of Mussolini’s Daughter Edda & Zhang Xueliang, Heroic China Warlord

Zhang Xueliang and Edda Ciano, Mussolini's daughter.
Zhang Xueliang and Edda Ciano, Mussolini’s daughter.

Here’s a romantic footnote you might have missed in your China history lessons. Did you know that Countess Edda Ciano, Mussolini’s daughter, had an affair with Zhang Xueliang? He’s the warlord who helped unite China against Japanese forces after his bold kidnapping of Chiang Kaishek in Xi’an in 1936 (aka the “Xi’an Incident”).

The New York Times actually mentions the two in this 2001 remembrance, when Zhang Xueliang passed away at the ripe old age of 100 (wow!):

Zhang Xueliang, a onetime warlord who in two turbulent weeks in 1936 helped turn the course of Chinese history — and then spent the next 55 years under house arrest, gradually and reluctantly becoming a national hero — died on Sunday in Honolulu, where he had been living in recent years. He was 100.

…His Northeastern Border Defense Army grew to 400,000 men, and in 1930 he was named deputy commander in chief of the Chinese armed forces. But he was distracted from military affairs by an active social life, including a dalliance with Countess Edda Ciano, daughter of Mussolini and wife of the Italian minister to China.

Here’s a more intimate look into their relationship from the book Zhang Xueliang: The General Who Never Fought:

Zhang and Edda Ciano first met in Beijing at a dinner for the League of Nations delegation headed by Lord Lytton. The delegation was there to investigate the roots of the Manchurian Incident and its developments. According to her testimony, Edda sat across from Zhang at the table and at the end of the evening he passed her a note inviting her to join him for a tour of the Imperial Summer Palace the next day, which she gladly accepted. The following day they spent a number of hours at the palace, with Zhang serving as Edda’s guide and giving her all his attention, while almost completely ignoring the other members of her entourage, including high-level personalities. The attention of the strongest man in China and ruler of its northern provinces, the daughter of the Italian dictator noted years later, ‘flattered my ego’. This indicated how Zhang had maintained his position in the kingdom, even at his lowest point after his defeat by the Japanese.

During the month following that tour of the Summer Palace, the friendship between the two deepened…. Edda managed to convince Zhang to purchase three Italian-made aircraft for the Chinese Air Force. The close relationship between the Italian and Chinese air forces, which developed during the 1930s, can be attributed to the personal friendship between Zhang and Edda. Years later, Zhang testified that Edda wrote many letters to him over a long period of time, but at some point asked him to return them to her. When he was asked if they were love letters, he refused to reply.

The two met frequently in Shanghai during Zhang’s drug rehabilitation process. [NOTE: Zhang was addicted to opium for a time.] One evening, Zhang held a festive dinner at his magnificent villa in honor of Edda and her husband ahead of their return to Italy, even though he and his entourage were about to sail on the same ship with their guests.

From right to left: Yu Fengzhi (wife of Zhang Xueliang), W.H. Donald (Australian consultant of Zhang Xueliang), Zhang Xueliang. In center the comtesse Edda Ciano (daughter of Mussolini and wife of Italian ambassador in China Galeazzo Ciano)
Edda Ciano, Mussolini’s daughter (third from left) stands with Zhang Xueliang (third from right) in Beijing, 1931.

According to the book Mao: The Real Story, there’s a fascinating political backdrop to the love affair between Zhang and Edda:

The naive marshal, who was sympathetic toward the fascists, invested particular hope in Il Duce, believing that only an ironlike totalitarian dictatorship like Mussolini’s could rescue China from the crisis. He also counted on help from the Duce’s daughter, Edda, the wife of the Italian consul general in Shanghai and future Italian minister of foreign affairs, Count Ciano. Zhang was a ladies’ man. Good-looking, youthful and dark-haired with a bristling mustache, he adored nightclubs and cabarets, was a splendid dancer, and courted women elegantly. The passionate Italian lady could not resist the handsome marshal, whose personal fortune, incidentally, amounted to some $50 million. It is hard to blame her, particularly since Count Ciano slighted her and preferred to linger in Shanghai’s bars and houses of prostitution. Edda’s romance with Zhang Xueliang continued for only a short time. In 1932 Edda and her husband returned to Rome.

A suave China warlord (who eventually makes history) romances the daughter of Italy’s infamous fascist dictator during the 1930s. Wouldn’t this make for an incredible movie? If it ever hits the big screen, I’ll be there.

4 Stinging 1890s Quotes on White Women Who Loved Chinese Men

By I. W. Taber - http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/tf2779n8vr/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3364494
By I. W. Taber – http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/tf2779n8vr/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3364494

The LA Herald published “Married to Chinamen – White Women Who Accept Mongolian Husbands” in 1892. But it’s hatred, not acceptance, that prevails in the piece.

Essentially, the article asks a simple racist question. What in the world is wrong with these white women, who would dare to love and marry Chinese men?

I’m amazed that there were white women in the 1890s courageous enough to overcome societal condemnation and love Chinese men regardless.

Think about it. This was only a decade after the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. In an era when the US wanted Chinese out of the country, these women welcomed them into their hearts and homes. They created families with them.

So, in an effort to remember the bitter early history of AMWF couples in America, I’m sharing 4 stinging quotes on white women who love Chinese men from this LA Herald piece:

#1: The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.

Racists crave dehumanizing language. So it’s not surprising that the paper describes these white women as if they were the brides of Frankenstein.

#2: She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.

If the 1890s ever ran a “public service announcement” against white women marrying Chinese men, it would probably start with something like this. (Oh my.)

#3: It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…

And if that 1890s “public service announcement” continued, this is the climax, the heart of their argument. Don’t marry someone who can’t guarantee you a proper marriage! (Whoa.)

#4: They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.

<sarcasm>Ah yes. Amazing that Mrs. Watson didn’t somehow become deformed or damaged after marrying a Chinese man. And her kids even appear normal. Incredible! </sarcasm>

You can read the full LA Herald article online. Prepare to cringe.

What do you think?

P.S.: Thanks to Tony of Frederickbee.com for linking to this article, which brought it to my attention.

I’m always on the lookout for more AMWF history. If you know of a couple or story you’d like me to spotlight, contact me today.

AMWF History: Sarah Burke and Wong Suey Wong, Arrested in 1883 USA (For Love)

A Chinese American man.
A Chinese American man circa late 1800s/early 1900s.

Chances are, if you’ve ever been in an interracial or intercultural relationship, you’ve experienced your share of negative comments or racist remarks.

But at least you’ve never been arrested, like Sarah Burke and Wong Suey Wong were in San Francisco, California in 1883. That’s just one year after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.

Here’s the initial story from the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com):

Officer Travers brought to the city prison at 12:30 o’clock this morning a Chinaman on whose arm whose was hanging a pretty young girl of some twenty summers. The couple proved to be no others than Wong Suey Wong and Sarah Burke. The arrest was made at 728 Jackson Street, a house of ill-fame, being the abode of several Celestial courtesans. Here Sarah Burke was found, in one of the upper rooms, in a bed completely hidden by sheets used as curtains. At the police station she said that she had gone to the house on Tuesday last, knowing that it was a house of ill-fame, but not caring, since in a day or two she would be legally married to the choice of her heart, with whom she has been living for the past five months. On being parted from her Chinese lover she squeezed his hand, which he returned with equal fervor. In the Chinaman’s pocket was found, besides a receipted bill for a bed and a spring mattress, a photograph of his fair amorata, from which he parted with evident reluctance. He was charged with felony in having lodged a girl under age in a house of ill-fame, while she was booked for residing in a house of prostitution.

In other words, the authorities dredged up some pretextual reasons to throw them in jail, since they didn’t like the idea of a Chinese man and a white woman being in love.

And if you had any doubt as to how people felt about a relationship like this in those days, well, read the first line of the April 8, 1883 story in the San Francisco Chronicle follows on 8 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com):

Sarah Burke, who has unalterably set her mind upon a disgusting marriage with a Chinese laundryman, acknowledged that she had passed a dismally and frigidly cold night in prison on Friday. Wong Suey Wong, her Mongolian fiancée, coincided in this experience. About 11 o’clock yesterday morning some of the pair’s Chinese friends obtained the release of the couple on bonds in $100 each.

This April 8, 1883 story highlights the challenges the couple faced in trying to marry, noting, “…it was fortunately discovered that for decency’s sake a marriage between a white and an Indian, mulatto or Mongolian, was prohibited and therefore the County Clerk could issue no marriage license.” Sarah and Wong’s only options were a marriage under a civil contract or a marriage without a marriage license.

(As shocking as this sounds, it reminds me of the restrictions the US had placed on same-sex couples. Hard to believe the US Supreme Court only legalized marriage equality just last year!)

But it gets worse when Sarah’s father attempted to have her committed to an institution for insanity, “who deemed the fact of her infatuation for a repulsive Chinese sufficient grounds for believing that she had lost her reason.” Ugh!

Here’s the story in the San Francisco Bulletin 12 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com):

The father testified that his daughter had always been possessed of ordinary common sense until about the first of last January, when she conceived her unhallowed desire to wed Wong Suey, since which she had acted as though possessed of the Infernal One. He had never had any reason to doubt that she was a chaste and moral girl until now. Sarah Isabella was also examined. She again reiterated her love for Wong Sue, and desires to marry him….

The Commissioners, however, concluded that they could not commit the girl as insane. She was evidently suffering from a moral eclipse, but her mental trouble did not, in their opinion, come within the meaning of the law….

The story even chronicles how “a stalwart policeman grabbed Wong by the nape of the neck and small of the back, and hurled him into the hallway adjoining the Commission” after Wong entered the room and embraced Sarah. Horrible!

Fortunately, all charges were dismissed against Sarah Burke, and the couple were married by Reverend Mr. Vrooman.

But did they live happily ever after? Hard to say in the late 1800s in America, a world filled with hostility for interracial couples.

What do you think?

P.S.: Thanks to Tony of Frederickbee.com for tipping me off to this story and offering a wonderful repository of information at his website.

I’m always on the lookout for more AMWF history. If you know of a couple or story you’d like me to spotlight, contact me today.