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[Feature]Korean Immigrants In America⑥

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작성자 minjok 작성일02-01-18 00:00 조회2,094회 댓글0건

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Chapter Six: THE MARRIAGE BY MATCHMAKERS


sunwoohakwon.jpg To understand the concept of the family we must understand the traditional concept of marriage. Confucius summarizes marriage as follows: "Marriage is the union (of the representatives) of two different surnames, in friendship and love, in order to continue the posterity of former ages, and to produce those who shall preside at the sacrifices to heaven and earth, at the sacrifices of the ancestral temples, and at the alters to the spirit of the land and the grain." (Sing Ging Su, The Chinese Family System, p. 50)

Because of the importance and solemnity of marriage, there are requirements which were first prescribed and enforced by custom and afterwards incorporated in written codes of law. First is the requirement of parental consent which has existed in Asia for centuries. The consent of parents is required for every marriage. Another traditional marriage requirement is that the proposals of marriage should be made by a matchmaker, who might be either a man or a woman. In time marriage under compulsion or misrepresentation was a violation of law. For every marriage the mutual consent of the two families is required. There are many more requirements and intricate process of concluding a marriage to show how important the Asians consider the marital relationship.

One of the taboos in marriage is, for example, persons of the same surname descended through males from a common ancestor no matter how remote, they cannot intermarry. This prohibition also includes persons of different surnames but who are descended from the same ancestors as in cases of adoption or where the surname has been changed by legal process.

According to Confucian teachings upon which the Korean old tradition has been based, the women"s duty became that of obedience to her father, her husband, and her son. She was literally given in marriage by her family; and, when married, she had to render absolute obedience to her husband"s parents. Whatever property she brought became the possession of her new family. She could be sent back divorced to her father"s household for any one of the following reasons which were recognized by law: barrenness, adultery, disrespect towards father-in-law or mother-in-law, loquacity, theft, jealousy, and foul disease. Furthermore, in the family of the strong and wealthy, the wife whatever her condition and character, was doomed to association with many concubines in proportion to her husband"s prosperity and position. There are few exceptions to these conditions. However, the wife could not be sent away for three reasons: 1. If she had mourned her husband"s parents for three years; 2. if her husband"s family became wealthy; 3. if she had no family to take her in.

Traditionally, divorces were rather rare in Asian society. Public opinion considered them sad and tragic occurrences and frowned upon them. Furthermore, peasants, artisans, and low level laborers could not afford the expenses of a second marriage after the heavy expense of the first marriage; and the wealthy man did not have to discard the old wife if he disliked her; he could always take concubines.

Now we like to introduce Joan"s case. The case of Joan"s marriage, she had followed the traditional matchmaker"s advice to marry in spite of the fact that she had practically grown up in America. Joan arrived in San Francisco in 1912 with her mother at the age of 7. Her father was already in America alone and had saved enough money to bring his family to America. Joan and her mother joined her father at Lompoc, California where she attended school. Later she moved to Oakland where she finished her high school. About this time, matchmakers began to visit Joan"s home. Mr. Lee Hae-su was one of them. Lee introduced the groom-to-be to Joan"s mother. Her mother liked the groom-to-be, and they agreed upon everything without even asking Joan"s opinion about her future husband. The groom-to-be was Mr. Ahn Young-ho, a cousin of Mr. Ahn Chang-ho, who was a well known Korean community leader at that time. This was happening in Oakland, not in Korea.

Q. Were you excited?
A. No. I wasn"t excited or nervous. I just wanted to know what
kind of a person he was. I knew his cousin-brother.

Q. You didn"t feel nervous about this man you were supposed to marry?

A. No, we weren"t talking about marriage yet. They were talking about it but I wasn"t.

There was no romantic moment but Joan didn"t object to marrying a young man she had just met. Her mother"s decision was good enough for her. She married him in San Francisco and Reverend Lee Dae-wi officiated at the ceremony. Mr. and Mrs. Ahn have been married happily for 50 years; we had known them all those years at the time they were interviewed in 1976.

Q. Where did you meet him first?

A. I met him through two men. They introduced Mr. Ahn to me. One of the men is Lee Jae-su but that the other man I just can"t remember.

Q. Was that first time you met your husband-to-be?

A. After my mother was in Sacramento and my cousin, Mrs. Roh had her first child, they met there first, my mother and the matchmakers, and the groom-to-be. Well, they met and everything agreed upon among them.

Q. Well, did you see him at that time?

A. No. You see, I didn"t see him until he came to Oakland, but my mother warned me that Ahm Chang-ho"s cousin was coming to see me.

Joan was told about Mr. Ahn"s coming to see her but she had no

advance warning about her marriage to him which her mother and the

matchmakers had already decided upon. She said that they were talking

about Joan"s marriage to him without Joan"s consent.

Q. You didn"t have any feeling about him?

A. No.

Q. Well, maybe your mother told you, "Joan, you"re grownup, and you"re supposed to get married.

A. I don"t know. Maybe that was it. He came a couple of times and after that he proposed and Paul Whang"s father and his mother were involved in this marital situation. So finally he did ask how it would be if we got together and I thought it would be alright to try it. After that and in a few months later we got married.

Mr. Ahn left Korea in 1905 with his cousin because he had no one to take care of him. Mr. Ahn said, "The reason I left Korea was because I simply couldn"t live there...through letters from cousin, knew it was a better life in America." He was only 12 years old. After spending five years in Hawaii, the 17 year old Ahn landed in San Francisco. He moved to Los Angeles where he stayed with his cousin, Mr. Ahn Chang-ho. His cousin was laboring just as any other Korean immigrant at that time. Ahn left the city for the farm to find work. He met Joan while he was doing farm work.

Q. How did you meet your wife?
A. No special way.
Q. There must be an interesting old time story.

A. I was working and there was this Lee Jae-su and another man from Hawaii. He was a minister.

Q. Mr. Ahn, how did you get around to asking Joan to marry you?

A. I didn"t ask her.

Q. You didn"t ask her? How did you let her know you wanted to marry her?

A. I let them (matchmakers) do the work. I didn"t say "yes" or "no."

Q. I know you used to tell lots of jokes.

A. Yes, but when I met young ladies, I can"t tell them "you going to marry me or not?" I can"t say that. So I told the matchmakers that "it"s all up to you".

Mr. Ahn was in trucking business at that time. He took his truck to Isleton to buy asparagus in order to ship it to Los Angeles and sell it. He found that the prices were not profitable, so he didn"t buy it. He drove his empty truck to Sacramento looking for a business there. He met two men, matchmakers, who invited Mr. Ahn for dinner. During the dinner, one of them said, "There"s a girl here and if you want to get married, don"t miss the chance, you"d better get married." Mr. Ahn did not reject the proposal, after all, he was a 31 year old bachelor. Mr. Ahn had known these two men for a long time. The matchmakers went to talk to Joan"s parents, and talked to them convincingly.

The arranged marriage took place and they settled in Los Angeles. Mr. Ahn recalled that he was flat broke when he got married. He remembered, "I bought vineyards but the rain sweep them all out. Believe it or not, I lost about $25,000 at that time." It wasn"t all his money, but most was borrowed to invest in grapes. The money was hard to get and the depression was setting in; everything he had, he lost and they were really down to nothing. The young bride started sewing to support her husband. She made handkerchiefs. Joan remembered, "I was the first one to start it. ...chiffon hand-rolled handkerchiefs. It was piece work. I was able to make $8 a day with all my housework, and that was a lot of money in those days." She soon became an agent. That"s when all the other Korean women got involved. They came and asked for jobs. Eight years after she married, she had made enough money to make a down payment to buy a house. In those days, $1.50 a day was considered a good wage but Joan made $8 a day. However, Mr. Ahn lost his money in a bad investment and had no job. They moved to Oakland.

Joan said, "When I came to Oakland I swore I would not hold a needle in my hands or go out to work. But I tell you, when you need money, you had to. So I took a house cleaning job for 50 cents an hour but that was a good wage. I was willing to clean houses to make money to eat." Meanwhile, Mr. Ahn worked as a janitor but he was not happy with it. He was fired and at midnight they were ordered to move out. But where could they go? They moved into Joan"s parent place for awhile. He found another janitorial job and stayed on for awhile, but he got sick with tuberculosis. He was hospitalized for 22 months. Their two daughters also were hospitalized for 6 months. Joan worked 6 days a week and for $60 a month.

The worst thing was the amount of sickness in their house. They dealt with one illness after the other. She said, "But the good Lord was with us. When you live honestly, and you have faith in Him and you care for each other, you plug along and some days there are ways of opening the door for you."

Q. What did it bother you in American life?

A. Oh, when you go to restaurant you have to sit certain place.

Q. Mr. Ahn, what kind of place did they put the Oriental people?

A. Not only eating places, same thing in the barber shop. You sit in the chair, the barber says, "what do you want?" I would say, "what do you think I come in here for?" The barber says, "if you want to cut your hair, go to Yokohama get cut."

Q. Oh, that kind of insult.

A. Yes, that means "we don"t cut your hair." Something like that. You go to movies, there"s one section for Orientals like Blacks and Mexicans.

Once, I went down to Imperial Valley driving my truck with my helper who was a white man. We went to a restaurant to eat in the morning. They served my helper but not me. So I told the waiter, "What do you think I come in here for? For your looks? Are you going to serve me or not?" He said, "No." "Why not?" He said, "You go to Yokohama to eat."

Q. So what did you do?

A. Is that so? So I picked up a stool and threw it at the guy, but I missed and broke a great big mirror.

The incident did not stop there. The waiter called the police. Right across the street was the police station. The man told his story to the police officer. The police asked Mr. Ahn what happened. Mr. Ahn said, "Nothing much. I wanted a cup of coffee, and I have money, American money. But the guy treats me worse than a dog. That why I got so mad....that"s all. What do you think officer?" The officer heard the story from both sides and said, "Oh, I think I do same thing if I were you, young man."

Joan grew up with white friends during her childhood; there were no Korean children of her age group at that time; she married a young man who also grew up in America but their life had been no different from any of the other Korean immigrants. Both of them had advantage over the other Koreans due to their schooling and speaking knowledge of English, but again, they were no different from other Koreans. He was a janitor and she was a housemaid for a long time. Joan said, "We had a hard life." Mr. Ahn agreed.

Another marriage by a matchmaker is about Mrs. Rosa Sunoo. We called her "grandma" because she married to Mr. Sam Sunoo for her second marriage. Rosa left Korea when she was only 9 years old in 1905 following her family to Mexico. The family"s original plan had been to immigrate to America, but were landed to Mexico without their knowledge. 1,032 Koreans were loaded on the cattle ship that was supposed to stop in Honolulu but shipped to Mexico instead. She said, "Our parents did not know it. We thought we were going to Hawaii, but the Japanese had sold us to Mexico as slaves." As soon as the Koreans landed in Mexico, the conquerors divided up the Koreans to about 30-40 per ranch. She remembered, "We were slaves for 4 years."

Her family was rather well-to-do in Korea. Her grandfather was mayor of Kanghwa city. Her father was a captain in the Korean army before Japan invaded Korea. Now they were to make living in Suku ranch, Yucatan, Mexico. Rosa"s father went out to the field and had to cut "Yucca." It grows long, and has stickers on both sides. Rayon comes from that; they also make gunny sacks and rope. Her father had a four-year contract to stay. There was no choice. Grandma remembers, "Sometimes the people get sick and don"t go out. Then, comes the long whip to whip horses, they"ll whip you like an animal. They treated us like animals." Of course, there were no medical services as such.

Q. How did your mother give birth?
A. My father was an army man, and he knew how to do all kinds of things. They didn"t have a drug store like today. My father also knew how to do acupuncture. So when mother gave birth, he was the one that took care of it.

Q. Did you go to school?

A. No. There was no school there. I learned Indian language because I played with Indian children. But my father wanted me to learn Spanish, so I played with Mexican children and learned Spanish.

Q. Your name "Rosa" is Spanish.

A. Mother named me after Spanish doctor"s wife. My brother was very sick and the doctor took care of him. They were very intelligent people.

Life was very rough. My father"s earning was not enough, so mother had to help him. Mother and an older sister had been sewing to help make a living. Those Indians didn"t know how to do fine sewing; they did a very crude kind of sewing. My mother did such fine sewing and made beautiful button holes on the Indian men"s shirts. They were crazy about that. She charged only 25 cents a shirt. That was pretty good. Rosa"s family moved around from one ranch to another, but life wasn"t any better.

A tragic thing had happened in the family. The mother passed away in Compatcho in 1910 after 5 years of hardship in immigrant life. There was an epidemic of Yellow Fever and a lot of people died. Her mother had a baby then; a boy, and both of them died. So many people died, and there wasn"t enough lumber in the lumber yard to make coffins. So her mother was buried in a coffin made from one of the doors in the house. Rosa helped her father and sister put on the wedding dress she had brought along from Korea, and placed her in the coffin. Later on, the Indian men came with sort of a wagon, and took her away. Father wouldn"t permit any of the children to accompany him to the burial. The rest of the family got Yellow Fever too, and had to go to the larger city, called Merida. They were put into the general hospital for about a month.

Grandma Rosa recalled, "We lost our mother--I felt like I lost the world--nothing could make me happy. I just felt so sad..." She was speechless when her father came to see them. "I was just like a baby. I just yelled and cried and cried." He told her, "If you cry like this, next time, I am not coming to see you." A month later they were released from the hospital. But where could they go? Father had to return to the ranch. They found "something like foster parents." That family had a good grocery business and had no children of their own. Rosa helped in the store and with the housework, etc. Unfortunately for the children, the lady was not very kind to them. Rosa said, "The lady was so mean to us." She whipped the children for no reason. One time the lady "tried to push me in a well which was in her back yard." Rosa"s sister saw this incident and rescued her. Rosa said, "It didn"t really matter. My life was so sad. I didn"t want to live. The only reason I wanted to live was for the sake of my sister, Maria. That"s all."

About this time, Rev. Whang Sa-yong visited Mexico in order to investigate the hardship situation. The Korean National Association in America was informed about the slave condition in Mexico, sent Rev. Whang from San Francisco. He spent about a year going from ranch to ranch to investigate the Korean situation. He had written a letter to KNA about his findings in the following manner:

...while they were on plantation, they barely make out an existence, but once they are released their existence is threatened, because they cannot find jobs, and have no savings for emergencies.

Every day, hundreds of immigrants (Koreans) visit our office for assistance. Please expedite the relief fund.

After a one year stay in Mexico, Rev. Whang was about to return to America when he saw Rosa. She was only 13 years old. She told Rev. Whang how she wished that she could go to America with him.
All Korean immigrants in Mexico used to think America must be like heaven. Three years later, Rev. Whang wrote to Rosa"s father and mentioned a "single man" who wanted to get married. That single man was Mr. Yoon who was an immigrant in America. Rosa was 16 years old, and her father was anxious to send her to America. Mr. Yoon arrived with Rev. Whang"s introduction to her father.

Q. Did he come to marry you?
A. No, just to take a look at me.
Q. He didn"t know what a cute little girl you were.



A. No, I was so small even at 16. Anyone looking at me, saw me as 12 years old. So small. Another thing, the weather was so hot over there, I was so black. He came, but he didn"t want to get married.

Q. You mean, he saw you and didn"t want to get married?

A. Yes. He didn"t. He was about 28 years old and I was 16. I don"t blame him. Even at that time, he had women all over.

Q. What did you think of him when you saw him first time?

A. I felt nothing. One day, father invited him to the kitchen--you see, there was a wood partition for dining. I was asked to cook something I learned from my mother. Father took it to the table and they were eating. I wanted to see what he looked like--I peeped through a knot hole. He was nice looking and white complexion, but I never saw anyone before with thick lips. ...His lips were so thick. I was too young, always locked in, never saw or played with boys.

Father finally told Rosa that "You are going to marry him and go to America. Mr. Yoon didn"t want to, but my father just begged him to take me to America."

Mr. Yoon finally decided to take Rosa with him to America. Rosa and her little sister, Maria, followed Mr. Yoon to El Paso where they met American immigration officers. The American immigration officer stopped them because it was illegal for an unmarried man to bring in young girls to America to get married. They were advised to get married first before they entered the United States. Rosa had to be 19, not 16, or else have her parental consent. Next day, they had to go to a minister"s house to get married. Rosa had a brass ring from her father"s friend"s 10 cent store. In the morning, Mr. Yoon told her "get that ring off." That was the first conversation in entire trip so far. She was shy, beside she was afraid of him. She always spoke to Maria in Spanish and she"d translate to him in Korean if they needed to communicate. She took her brass ring off, put it in Mr. Yoon"s pocket. He said, "Okay, we"re going to get married to get across the border." They returned to the Mexican border and got married. They waited for the wedding license which came from Washington, D.C. which took another month.

How about Rosa"s sister, Maria? The immigration authorities refused to let Maria enter the country. It had to be Mr. Yoon"s responsibility because Maria was a little girl. Mr. Yoon had to adopt her as his daughter. Maria now became Rosa"s adopted daughter legally. All three arrived in Los Angeles after waiting another month to clear the paper for Maria. "This is Los Angeles. Koreans live here." Mr. Yoon told them. Rosa felt sad rather than happy when she looked out the window. The sight of all the lights, the confused thought in a strange country with a strange man made her cry.

Mr. Yoon put Rosa and Maria in a Japanese girl"s home in San Francisco and went to work on a farm. He put them there for safe-keeping. Another thing, Rosa said, "He wasn"t too happy with me...coming on our way, on the train Mr. Yoon told me, "I feel ashamed taking you to see my friends." I asked why? He replied, "you are too ugly." That"s in my head, and I"ll never forget that."

Q. Did you believe that?

A. Yes, that was not a joke. I was too young and innocent. So I feel I"m ugly. Then he puts me in a home with my sister for about a year. He registered me there in my maiden name, Miss Cho because married women weren"t eligible there. He worked at ranch, and came to see me once in a while. I was staying there with about 60 Japanese girls and 10 Koreans.

She moved out of the home later in order to take care of her younger brother, Philip, because her father had returned to Korea. Her married life was an unhappy one from the beginning and they were separated most of the time since he worked in ranch while she was raising the children. She divorced him in her later part of life and remarried. She had a happy life with Grandpa Sam until he died. We always visit her in Los Angeles whenever we visit the city. She is known for her charm and graciousness among her friends.
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