The War Brides Act of 1945 and its amendments affirm an outcome of wars of conquests involving alien lands, peoples, and women. Generally, men declare and engage in those acts of subjugation. Since the late 19th century, the United States has waged war against the Philippines, against Japan, in Korea, in Vietnam, and in West Asia (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan). And the United States, through its military might, annexed Guam and Hawai'i, and through a political agreement absorbed a portion of Sāmoa. Asian and Pacific Islander women were thereby drawn into relationships with U.S. military men whether out of romantic love or relations of power.
The 1945 War Brides Act allowed admission into the United States “alien spouses and alien children of citizen members of the United States armed forces.” Those “alien spouses” were war brides. The Chinese Alien Wives of American Citizens Act (1946) amended the original act to allow the entry of Chinese wives unrestricted by the annual immigration quota of 100 Chinese set by the Immigration Act of 1924. The 1946 amendment was directed at Chinese American soldiers who married or were already married to Chinese women. Many Chinese American soldiers had wives and children in China during the war, and after its end returned to the United States with their families. These were not war brides.
Under the War Brides Act, 5,132 Chinese women entered the United States, having married U.S. servicemen, and under the Chinese Alien Wives of American Citizens Act, 2,317 additional Chinese women entered the country. Thousands of Japanese women and Filipinas (Filipino women) entered the United States each year during the decade following World War II, most of them married to U.S. servicemen, and a similar pattern developed during and after the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam. Unlike the Chinese women who entered the United States as war brides, most of the Japanese women and Filipinas married to U.S. servicemen entered as their dependents and not as war brides under the War Brides Act.
During the 1950s, Japanese women entering the United States as dependents of U.S. citizens ranged from 2,000 to 5,000 each year, comprising about 80 percent of all Japanese immigrants. Those numbers declined in the 1960s to 2,500 annually, and in the 1970s, to an average of 2,300 per year. Although legally not war brides, those Japanese women, like Filipinas and Korean and Vietnamese women who entered the United States as dependents of servicemen, were the outcomes of war and the continued military occupation of their countries by U.S. troops and their military bases.
For many Japanese women, social dislocation and poverty caused by the war and the apparent wealth of U.S. soldiers in Japan lured them into thinking marriage to an American was a ticket to the good life. “I thought that in America there was lots of money,” a Japanese war bride recalled. “Everything is carefree, lots to eat…. I thought I was going to paradise” (Glenn, 58). Others married to escape the dominance of men in Japanese society, seeking a more egalitarian relationship. But both wealth and greater gender equality often eluded war brides once settled in the United States where the cost of living was higher and patriarchy prevailed. In fact, out of their culture, war brides grew even more dependent upon their husbands, and loneliness, homesickness, and difficulty with English were their daily companions.
War brides were a consequence of war, but they were also vital to the growth of Asian and Japanese American communities. Especially for Chinese Americans, the Chinese war brides helped to even the gender imbalance and the ratio between men and women. Since the 19th century, there were far more Chinese men than women. War brides reduced that discrepancy. War brides also reproduced, and their children infused an aging population with youthful energy and creativity. Since the 1924 Immigration Act, some 100 Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and South Asians were allowed into the United States every year. The same quota applied to Filipinos after 1934. The World War II war brides escaped those restrictive quotas, and began the demographic changes that transformed Asian America in the last three decades of the 20th century.
Gary Y. Okihiro
Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. Issei, Nisei, Warbride: Three Generations of Japanese American Domestic Service. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.