Picture Bride Essays

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Stephanie Sinclair's work on child and underage brides in Guatemala in the latest installment of her decade-long project spanning 10 countries to document the issue of child marriage around the world. In Guatemala, over half of all girls are married before 18, and over 10% under 15. Many girls marry men far older than themselves, end up withdrawing from school and become mothers long before they are physically and emotionally ready. Sinclair's powerful pictures and accompanying video capture Guatemalan girls trying to come to terms with the harsh realities of early motherhood, especially for those who have been abandoned by their husbands.

Stephanie Sinclair: Child, Bride, Mother (The New York Times)See also the Too Young To Wed website.

Sebastian Liste: The Media Doesn’t Care What Happens Here (The New York Times Magazine) These photographs capture a group of amateur journalists trying to cover the violence in one of the largest urban slums in Brazil, Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro.

Ross McDonnell: Inside the Frozen Trenches of Eastern Ukraine (TIME LightBox)The Irish photographer documented the Ukrainian soldiers in the week preceding the most recent, fragile cease-fire.

Sergey Ponomarev: Pro-Russian fighters in the ruins of Donetsk airport (The Globe and Mail) Haunting scenes of the Pro-Russian held remains of Donetsk airport.

Alex Majoli: Athens (National Geographic) The Magnum photographer captures the people of Greece's struggling capital for the magazine's Two Cities, Two Europes feature on Athens and Berlin.

Gerd Ludwig: Berlin (National Geographic) Ludwig documents Germany's booming capital for the magazine's Two Cities, Two Europes feature on Athens and Berlin.

John Stanmeyer: Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge (National Geographic) These photographs show the desperate conditions facing Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Edmund Clark: The Mountains Of Majeed (Wired RawFile)The British photographer's latest book is the Bagram Airfield U.S. Military base in Afghanistan, which one held the infamous detention facility. Also published on TIME LightBox.

Sarker Protick: What Remains (The New Yorker Photo Booth)This moving, beautiful series documents the photographer's grandparents. The work was recently awarded 2nd Prize in the Daily Life stories category in the World Press Photo 2015 contest.

Muhammed Muheisen: Leading a Double Life in Pakistan (The Washington Post In Sight)The Associated Press photographer captures a group of cross-dressers and transgender Pakistani men to offer a glimpse of a rarely seen side of the conservative country.

What is most sobering about Yoshiko Uchida’s simple but tragic tale Picture Bride is how closely it follows an unsavory aspect of mid-twentieth century American history. Japanese people who settled on the West Coast did experience prejudice on the part of white people. Federal laws were passed discriminating against Japanese Americans, and Japanese Americans throughout the Pacific Coast region were rounded up and sent to concentration camps shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. As a Japanese American herself, Uchida is an authority on the matter. Just like Hana and Taro in the story, Uchida and her family spent several years at a miserable camp, ironically called Topaz, the Jewel in the Desert, in Utah. It is with an unpleasant start that people in the early 2000s realize that such things did indeed happen on U.S. soil, and within the lifetimes of the grandparents of young readers of Picture Bride in the early twenty-first century.

Poor Hana, the naive Japanese girl who in 1917 takes the boat to California to marry her picture groom—she has only seen a photograph of him—does not know what she is in for. At first her disappointment centers on her husband-to-be, who looks older than his thirty-one years and is already balding and whose drab shop in a run-down part of the city does not resemble in the slightest the smart store Hana had imagined he would own. Hana is a resourceful woman, however, and she soon adapts to her husband and to their limited financial resources. Harder to adapt to, however, is the resentment they as Japanese people face from the white residents, since they can do little to change it other than making sure that their lawn is always neatly cut and no soy barrels that might betray Japanese occupancy litter their yard.

Unfortunately for Hana, she has arrived and will live for the next quarter of a century through what might be called the high tide of prejudice on the part of the majority whites against anyone who happened to be Japanese or of Japanese descent. Examples from the period are not difficult to find. Under the Alien Laws of 1913 and 1920 passed in California, people who were ineligible to become U.S. citizens were not permitted to own land. This is why in the novel Taro is not permitted to own his store; eventually he gets around the problem by putting it in the name of his daughter, who, having been born in the United States, is automatically (according to the Fourteenth Amendment) a U.S. citizen. The Alien Laws were aimed principally at Japanese farmers, since white farmers feared that they would not be able to compete economically with the Japanese, who employed more efficient agricultural techniques. In the novel, when Taro visits a Japanese-American farming community, he notes how hard the farmers work, and he comments that this enables them to sell their produce for less than their white counterparts. His friend Dr. Kaneda explains that this accounts for the prejudice the Japanese face: “As long as we are an economic threat, we are going to be hated. It’s as simple as that.” Kaneda, the community activist, cannot help but feel indignant about this, and he sounds a note that becomes a constant theme in the novel—the fundamental decency of the Japanese people who are being unfairly discriminated against: “And yet why should our farmers be hated for being frugal and working hard to make an honest living?”

The ban on Japanese becoming naturalized U.S. citizens was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1922, and two years later, an immigration law effectively ended Japanese immigration to the United States. In Picture Bride, the injustice of laws such as these is conveyed powerfully through the reactions of the innocent Hana, who finds it hard to believe that such unfairness can exist in the United States. “We Japanese are a peril to this enormous country?” she asks in disbelief after Taro informs her that the newspapers write about how Asians are threatening the jobs of white Americans and use phrases such as “yellow peril” to describe it.

This is just one of the many unpleasant surprises that have awaited the innocent Hana in her new country from the very beginning. For example, when her new friend Kiku Toda tells her that her husband Henry works at the bank, Hana naively assumes that Henry must be a banker or at least a teller or clerk. She is surprised to learn that he is in fact a janitor; the reader guesses what Hana does not yet know: many immigrant Japanese must work at jobs far below their true skills and capabilities simply because white employers will not give them an opportunity to do more. (Later, Henry is fired by the bank and given no reason for his dismissal; the reason of course is clear to readers.)

As the story unfolds, the hurtful slights and more serious discrimination against Japanese Americans accumulate in a steady stream. Taro speaks of how when he first came to the United States, he was humiliated at school because of his poor English skills. (He worked hard to master English, a skill which Hana never seems to acquire.) When Taro tries to rent a house he is refused many times by white landlords who offer the flimsiest of excuses to justify shutting him out. Then there is the delegation of neighborhood whites who report a complaint about the presence of Japanese on the block; they do not have the courage to admit that they are the ones who are complaining, and when asked they can point to nothing that Taro and Hana have actually done to offend anyone. This is racism pure and simple, based not on what a person does but what he or she is. Later, when Hana’s daughter Mary, who was born in the United States and is an American citizen, is growing up, she is advised by the staff at the city swimming pool that she would not “enjoy” swimming there, a thinly veiled way of saying she is not welcome. There may not have been an outright ban on Asians using the pool, but there was a de facto segregation that was understood by...

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