Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the U.S. entered the war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued the infamous declaration “9066” ordering the internment of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. Thousands of Japanese Americans were rounded up as enemy aliens and placed in “detention centers”.  Although grateful that the U.S. had joined the war against Japan, Chinese Americans were worried that many white Americans could not distinguish between Asian Americans.  Misidentified as Japanese and suffering from the nation’s long-standing hostility to Asian Americans, many Chinese Americans endured personal attacks.  Nonetheless, Chinese American women, like American women from many backgrounds and ethnicities, used the war as an opportunity to liberate not only China, but also themselves.

Many Chinese American women entered the defense industries, working in the shipyards and airplane factories on both coasts. Others joined wartime volunteer support groups. Perhaps the most prominent of these was the Los Angeles’ Chinatown branch of American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS).  Their clubhouse was in a popular restaurant, and more than one hundred Chinese American AWVS members kept it staffed for Chinese American soldiers on leave.

Lonnie Yee Young.
Courtesy of Wanda Young Ching and Connie Young Yu

Lonnie Yee Young was born in Salinas, California in the 1920’s. When she was three years old she went to China with her mother. She later returned to Salinas, where she worked in the Del Monte cannery, processing tomatoes and making ketchup. Her husband, Fred Young, was drafted almost immediately after their wedding in 1942 and Lonnie soon moved in with an aunt in San Mateo, California, and took a job in the shipyards in the fishing town of Sausalito, making the long commute up San Francisco Bay daily.  

Like many women in the ship yards who worked as secretaries and in maintenance, at first Lonnie Young swept floors. Seeking more interesting war work, she urged her manager to put her on the factory line and she became a “falanger”, a job held by few women, where she put together the parts for the male welder. When her boss wanted her to be photographed as a cover girl for the plant, a “Rosie the Riveter” type picture, initially she refused. But ultimately Lonnie Young posed for this iconic shot that marks and celebrates the war work of Chinese American women. Lonnie Yee Young died in Palo Alto, California, in 2003. 55