I love immigrant women.
Because we have so much in common.
I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1960s. There were so many rules for good girls!
—Never laugh out loud; it is rude to draw attention to yourself.
—Never promote yourself; humility and modesty are the eternal virtues.
—Always marry a man with money because society says, you are inferior, and must cater to the male. You will never make as much money as he does.
—Accept responsibility for taking care of your husband, taking care of the house, taking care of the children, taking care of the in-laws.
—Work for pocket money only; you must always find a man to take care of you and to validate your existence in polite society.
Well, several decades later… I believe that women are much stronger than men in every way except for physical strength.
Men need us more than we need them.
Just imagine if all women DID NOTHING—no sex, no cleaning, no cooking, no shopping, no administrative chores—for men for one month!
The resulting vacuum would clearly indicate who had more value !
But it is still so much a man’s world; when we are young, they use us for sex; when we are old, they use us for money (if we are weak and insecure enough to permit it!).
I can tell you hundreds of stories about men who have lost their jobs, who descended into depression/drugs/gambling/alcoholism/deviant sexual behavior, or who tried, and sometimes did, collect alimony from their wives; who kidnapped their children and took them to foreign countries. Or…focused most of their time and energy on finding a woman with an apartment or house, so that they could move in and live comfortably without having to pay rent or a mortgage.
And who always picks up the pieces?
Who takes care of the children and spouses and the in-laws with dementia?
Statistics show that men divorce sick wives more frequently than wives divorce sick husbands…even when there’s very little money involved.
My immigrant female friends are role models to me because of their fierce independence and determination.
Among them are:
The beautiful, black-haired woman from Ecuador, whose father was half-Jewish, half-Chinese. The Chinese had gone to Ecuador to build bridges and railroads. Her father and brother came to the United States first, and started a very successful ice-cream business.
She became a hairstylist and worked at a snooty salon on Third Avenue in the East Sixties for many years. Then she became business partners with a Russian-Jewish man. Every morning, while in the shower, she listens to Bloomberg News on the radio.
She said, “I’m curious about everything. I want to know what’s going on in the world; my clients are international.”
She asked about my background. I explained that my father was from Arkansas, my mother from Pennsylvania.
“Oh,” she said. “Was your mother German? The family were farmers at one time? Maybe they were Hessians, who came to fight with the British during the American Revolution?”
“Yes,” I replied in astonishment. “How did you know that?”
“I read a lot. Both of my children went to Ivy League schools. My husband and I were able to pay their tuition. It was very difficult, but we did it.”
“My husband is Japanese. He works for an international Japanese company,” she commented as she dried my hair.
I’ve been in New York for forty years; this place still amazes me!
—The incredibly sweet-natured Chinese woman, Tang, with an uncanny business sense. She was a member of the gifted minority who qualified for college during Mao’s regime. She married a handsome, tall, charming classmate, but his character was on the shady side. They started a business together—dress boutiques—and traveled all over China. She was the mastermind; he carried the cash in a brown leather satchel and supervised anything involving technology.
At that time, lipstick was rare. One stick was available; it offered a few shades of pink.
One of the teenage girls who worked in her shop always wore a particular pink shade.
As Tang and her husband were leaving in the evening, Tang noticed that particular pink on her husband’s cheek.
She was outraged and filed for divorce, which was extremely unusual at that time. Divorced women were frowned upon; they were essentially social outcasts.
What a courageous woman!
Her mother-in-law was a talented and respected designer for the Beijing Opera and was permitted to travel freely with a touring company.
Tang tagged along on one of the international trips to New York City. When the group was about to leave, Tang hid her suitcase and told one member of the group that she was staying in New York.
With just her handbag hanging from her shoulder, she bravely walked the streets alone.
After she was certain that the group had left for China, she made her way to Port Authority and boarded a bus to Wilmington, Delaware.
Tang worked as a “bus girl,” carrying heavy loads of dirty dishes. She lived in a ramshackle house with several other Chinese girls.
Eventually, she came to New York City to train as a manicurist, pedicurist, and masseuse. She was a hard worker and exceptionally charming and attentive to her customers. She listened to their personal stories and gently questioned them about their spouses, children, careers—whatever had been discussed previously. Her memory is exceptional.
After working at Elizabeth Arden and the salon at the Waldorf Astoria, she and another Chinese woman opened their own spa near the United Nations.
Today, they are very successful.
—And then there is my dentist from Manila. She is very pretty and unusually conscientious, always cheerful and calm.
She grew up in a poor Catholic family. She was a promising student, and her mother repeatedly advised, “Do not get married until you finish school.”
Sita was smart enough to listen to her mother.
She worked very hard at school and was able to get a job with a Jewish dentist on the Upper East Side: East 79th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington.
Sita bought her own townhouse/condo in New Jersey and shares it with her younger brother and older Maltese. Once a year, she flies to Manila to visit her many relatives.
—The other lovely hairdresser, Loanne, is from Vietnam. She was one of the” boat people” and actually spent time in prison.
Her parents were pharmacists in Hanoi. As was the custom, she was sent to the country to live with her grandparents. As a young girl, she fell in love with a handsome boy about her age. Loanne’s mother forbid their marriage and chose a much older man with a good job to be Loanne’s spouse.
He treated her as a comfort woman, baby maker, cook, and maid. She worked full time outside the home to provide for herself and for her daughters. After they moved to America, he started a factory in Vietnam and returned there frequently.
Loanne was exceptionally pretty: long, wavy brown hair and luminous brown eyes. Her disposition was sweet and playful, her figure that of a slim 18-year-old. She said her husband never complimented her. He never helped her in any way. And for sex, he used her just like a whore.
When her mother-in-law moved in with them, she was expected to be the caretaker.
“I am so, so tired,” she confided to me sotto voce. “Always, so tired.”
“My husband has health problems. If he dies, I don’t know where the money is. He tells me nothing. All secrets.”
She was such a kind and loving mother, always encouraging her daughters to get a good education and to postpone marriage as long as possible.
—another lovely Chinese woman, wife of a wealthy WASP. At a music lecture in the Bridgehampton, New York, library, I met an older woman, a former concert pianist, a Sagaponack resident ( who appeared to be a Mayflower descendant, based on her facial features and hairstyle clipped with a small tortoise-shell barrette).
We chatted after the lecture.
Her daughter-in-law played the piano, marched in Tiananmen Square, was arrested, jailed and tortured. While in jail, she was raped. Nevertheless, after being freed and coming to America, she met and married an American “prince,” well-educated, well-to-do, and kind.
And, despite her suffering in China, she was generous, patient, tolerant, forgiving, stable, compassionate, and devoted to her husband and mother-in-law, who had gone to college in North Carolina.
When I told her that I was from Tennessee, she commented, “Oh, the Southern girls got all the boys.”
“Yes,” I replied. “We were raised that way—to accommodate, serve, and entertain. And, always look perfect. I knew married women who would get up at five AM to put on their makeup before their husbands woke up. We were the geishas of the South.”
What do Southern women and Asian women seem to share?
[The greatest praise from a guy when I was in high school: “You are the most feminine girl I
An outside softness, an ability to accommodate and adapt to others.
(Once an ex-boyfriend told me, “You’re so gentle on the outside, but a rip tide underneath.”
I took that as a huge compliment!)
The inside is the tough part, which has been scarred and hardened by patriarchal cultures and the
No. You are female. You are nothing without a man. You cannot do that. It is not ladylike. It is not
feminine. You must not be too ambitious . The male has the power and makes the important decisions;
he controls the money.
It does not matter whether he is qualified or not. (Just take a gander at our current male political “leaders.”)
These women were never indulged as children. They learned to control their emotions.
“Think before you speak.”
“Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Not one spoiled brat among them. They endured material and emotional deprivation.
The feeling of “always being less than” has spurred them to achieve, to live a productive and disciplined life.
And that is why Asian women—and, hopefully, Southern women will be among the leaders of America’s future.
Self-absorbed spoiled brats are impulsive and demanding. They win short-term, but will never be able to go the distance when the shit hits the fan. They are not good soldiers. Their narcissistic rages are self-destructive.
We can truly lead, only by example.