The availability of picture brides made it possible for single Asian male immigrant workers to form families and to make permanent residence in their adopted country, most often Hawaii, but also on the West Coast of North America. After an abbreviated matchmaking process, the bride would be added to her future husband’s family register, then sail to meet him, thus complying with the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 that allowed only Asians joining family members to immigrate to the United States and its territory of Hawaii.
Between 1848 and 1875, the sugar industry in Hawaii enjoyed meteoric success as a result of four developments: The gold rush created new markets for food products in California, the Great Mahele made private ownership of land possible, the U.S. Civil War boosted the price of sugar, and the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 guaranteed Hawaii duty-free access to the American markets. The burgeoning sugar market required a vast supply of labor. Between 1875 and 1910, the plantation workforce in the Hawaiian Islands increased from 3,260 to 43,917. Most of these workers were single, male, illiterate Asian immigrants recruited by the sugar agencies and treated as commodities by the white American plantation owners. During the 1880’s, “Hawaii Netsu” (emigration fever) swept the economically strained prefectures of southwestern Japan. By 1902, Japanese constituted 73.4 percent of the plantation workforce. Between 1903 and 1905, more than 7,000 Koreans–spurred by Japanese expansion and domination, poverty, and a desire for religious freedom–immigrated to
From 1885 to 1889, Asian immigrants were typically bound to three-year work contracts and lived in rudimentary bachelor housing on the plantation grounds, in a paternalistic, highly controlled environment. In 1900, the
The peak period for picture brides in British Columbia, 1910-1920, was approximately twenty years after the surge of brides to
Makabe, Tomoko. Picture Brides: Japanese Women in Canada. North York, Ont.: Multicultural History Society of Canada, 1995. Takaki, Ronald. Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii, 1835-1920. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.
Asian American literature