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CONTENT WARNING: Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; religion; sex; and sexual orientation and gender identity.

This blog post was written on the lands of Virginia’s Indigenous people, Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Chickahominy, East Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Patawomeck, Upper Mattaponi, and Rappahannock tribes. The Library of Virginia rests of ancestral lands of the indigenous people of the Powhatan Confederation, a paramount chiefdom of about thirty Algonquian-speaking groups.
To learn more information about the Powhatan visit: National Park Service’s Chronology of Powhatan Indian Activity, Virginia Indian Digital Archive, and Encyclopedia Virginia. To learn what land you reside on, visit Native Land Digital.

The Library of Virginia has an extensive, incredible collection of historical and current newspapers, with more than one million pages digitized within the Virginia Chronicle archive. Newspapers can be a direct window into the past and are an important research tool when searching for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) history in Virginia. Snippets and mentions of APIDAs in newspapers can be an integral start to uncovering fruitful and rich histories,  featuring people who had to live and navigate in a legal and cultural system of Virginia segregation and white supremacy. Perhaps most valuable are the occasional photographs of APIDAs featured within the newspapers. Overall, while newspapers do not always give a full story, a larger picture (particularly of people featured) can be formed with the help of the federal census and other historical records and elusive questions may be pulled out of the articles. It is important to note that newspapers from the past are more likely to be other people’s perceptions of APIDAs than perspectives from APIDAs themselves, but they can still provide a glimpse into the lives of APIDAs.

The Library of Virginia holds not only well-known and established newspapers like the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but also high school newspapers in the collection that can offer important perspectives, like The Monocle (begun on 1 March 1929), published by John Marshall High School in Richmond.[1] Within these pages, one can see a glimpse of former student Woo Ging Tang. Woo Ging Tang’s wedding announcement can be found in the Monocle on 8 October 1937, where it mentions his graduation date of February 1936.[2] On a page from October 1937 (according to the caption), “former Marshallite and captain-quartermaster of the cadet corps, and now a sophomore at V.P.I. Extension, was married last Sunday at Immanuel Baptist Church to Moy Mee Ting, who has lived in China all her life.”[3] The page features a picture (courtesy of The Richmond News Leader) of Woo Tang and his new wife, Moy Mee Ting, with Richmond Mayor John Fulmer Bright.[4]

“Mayor Greets Woo Tang and Bride”

The Monocle (Richmond, VA), 8 October 1937, 4.

Woo Ging Tang, whose father Woo Back Noon Ying was a prominent civic leader and businessman in Richmond’s Chinese community, attended John Marshall High School while it was a racially segregated school that was closed to Black students.[5] Woo Ging Tang’s attendance was particularly notable considering the 1927 court case Gong Lum v. Rice.[6]

In Mississippi, Chinese immigrant Gong Lum opposed the South’s Jim Crow school system and sued in an attempt to have his 9-year old daughter Martha, who was born in the United States, attend a white school. He was unsuccessful; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state possessed the right to segregate white students from “the brown, yellow, and black” races.[7] Citing the 1896 landmark decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which set forth the “separate but equal” doctrine, the state supreme court ruled that Chinese were designated as nonwhite, or “colored,” and could be barred from schools reserved for white students.[8] Yet here in Richmond, Woo Ging Tang attended a white school.[9] Tang’s attendance at John Marshall could be a sign of “discrimination’s unevenness, its contingencies. As such they deliver only partial knowledge.”[10]

Lum v. Rice

275 U.S. 78 (1927), Library of Congress

The caption below the wedding image is short, yet telling. If captioned accurately, the comments of Woo Ging Tang’s English teacher, Miss Catherine Cross, potentially point to a number of stereotypes that were consistently spread across the United States at the time. Although these perhaps well-intentioned, Miss Cross’s statement that while he was a student he was “very popular among the boys here at school, but he did not seem to have anything more than a casual interest in the girls” could have an underlying intention (perhaps even subconscious to Miss Cross) to point to the desexualization of the Asian/Asian American male.[11] As sociologist Peter Chua and historian Diane C. Fujino wrote, “historically, U.S. institutional practices have rendered Asian-American men as simultaneously hypermasculine and emasculated.”[12] Anti-Asian sentiment was clear across the country in in the early 1900s with the passages of race-based immigration laws and gendered exclusionary policies, which allowed Asian male laborers to enter but restricted Asian women, producing highly skewed sex ratios.[13] It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that perhaps Miss Cross had taken in some of these stereotypes. As Chua and Fujino explain;

These policies, practices, and images shape and regulate early Asian-American masculinities in several ways (Bulosan, 1946/1973; Espiritu, 1997; Okada, 1957/1976). The dominant society made these men to be perpetual outsiders, foreigners, different. Whites saw Asian-American men as treacherous, dirty, and criminals. They were viewed as sexstarved gangs of men lusting over white women, as potential rapists, and as hypersexualized invaders ready to produce Asian children in the U.S. if given the opportunity. They needed to be constantly monitored by employers, groups of white men, and the police to keep them docile and submissive. And the lives of these Asian-American men were highly dependent on their employers. In addition to being hypersexualized, Asian-American men were simultaneously emasculated. Many did “women’s work,’’ such as laboring as domestic servants, launderers, and cooks. Some were separated from their wives living in Asia and somehow maintained split households. Other men were able to have their wives enter the country through the picture bride system. For those not married, anti-miscegenation laws forbid these men from marrying white women in most states and made the formation of new families highly difficult. Most participated in bachelor societies outside the workplace. Here laws limited Asian-American men’s interactions with white communities and especially white women. Religion, gambling, and visiting prostitutes served as some leisure and communal activities in an isolating, desolate, and unfriendly place. In short, early Asian-American masculinity was constructed to be threatening and disempowering in relations to white employers and to the larger U.S. society. (Chua and Fujino, 394)

With this information in mind, perhaps Miss Cross even meant this as a (twisted) compliment, as if to clearly state that Tang was never involved with the white girls at John Marshall High School, perhaps pointing to the anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia at the time.[14] It is interesting that out of all comments Miss Cross could have made, this was something that she chose to state.

Miss Cross’s second quote also may give pause; the caption states, “He was very intelligent and although he spoke Chinese in his home, he did very well in English.” It is important to consider what could be early shades of what is known as the model minority myth. As historian Gary Okihiro states, ”model minorities are those shaped in the image of the majority through resemblances with and assimilation into whiteness;” a discourse that attests to the power of white cultural norms (in this case, doing well in English) and prevailing social relations.[15] [16]

One must ask; why did Miss Cross bring up his intelligence alongside his proficiency of English? In reference to the model minority myth, historian Ellen Wu wrote: “Asian Americans discovered, too, that various authorities–both within and outside their ethnic communities–checked their autonomy to choose their own futures by pressuring them to behave as praiseworthy citizens.”[17] Perhaps this fact was in the back of Woo’s father’s mind when he told The Richmond Dispatch that he (the elder Woo) “was so sympathetic with Uncle Sam’s ideals that he had enrolled his boy as a member of the John Marshall High School Cadet Corps.” In fact, another article in The Richmond Times Dispatch in 1936 explicitly links Woo Ging Tang’s scholastic aptitude with his “Americanness,” writing that,

Rotund, jovial Mr. Woo and pretty Mrs. Woo are as thoroughly American as any foreign-born citizens can be, But it is in their 18-year-old son that you find the final westernization. At John Marshall High School before his graduation in June he was Quarter-master Captain Woo Oing Tong [sic], a good student with a liking for military, movies and current magazines on things scientific and and with the very American ambition to be an electrical engineer.

While perhaps these comments were meant to be compliments, there is much that can be inferred by them when looking at the larger context of Asian American history at this time. It is difficult to really know from such a small amount of information, but it can raise many questions. And to add one last layer, the comments underneath the image state Woo Ging Tang’s popularity at John Marshall, yet add that only one of Woo’s friends had been invited to the wedding and did not attend because it was scheduled at 8:00 in the morning. It certainly makes this author wonder: was Woo Ging Tang truly accepted at John Marshall High School? Were microaggressions a constant in his daily life?[18] Unfortunately, we may never know. While Tang did attend a white high school, it is important to keep in mind sociologist Claire Jean Kim’s analysis of racial triangulation, a reminder that “structural positioning I describe here does not simply reflect being ‘caught in the middle’ of equal and opposite forces; rather, it is a top-down imposition of status that, more often than not, adheres to the needs of the dominant at the same time that it offers a cultural and legal conundrum.”[19]And, to end on a quote from Leslie Bow: “Conversely, treatment of nonblack, nonwhite people confirmed the flexibility and resourcefulness of white supremacy’s apparatus.”[20]

Woo Ging Tang was able to fulfill his stated goal of becoming an engineer, finding employment at the Washington Shipyards. He started a family and joined the wider Chinese community in Richmond, which has so many stories waiting to be told[21]. Perhaps further research will lead us to these stories and Woo’s very own thoughts on his time at John Marshall High School.

Footnotes

[1] High school newspapers are a wealth of information and provide important perspectives to current events and happenings of not just the high school, but of the state, the nation, and the world. Alongside high school newspapers, researchers can use school yearbooks to build context and learn more; Virginia’s public libraries have been working together to collect digital scans of public high school yearbooks from across the Commonwealth hosted on Internet Archive.

[2] The Monocle (Richmond, VA), October 8, 1937, accessed May 14, 2020.

[3] The Monocle (Richmond, VA), October 8, 1937, accessed May 14, 2020.

[4] It is notable that Woo Ging Tang and his wife Moy Mee Ting married in a Christian church. Immanuel Baptist Church provides their history on their webpage.

[5] The Library of Virginia holds records on John Marshall High School from 1891-1913 as well as several years worth of yearbooks. To learn more, visit https://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=lva/vi04316.xml.

[6] Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78 (1927). See the original text through the Library of Congress.

[7] Gary Y. Okihiro, American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders (Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 2015), 324.

[8] Gary Y. Okihiro, Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture (Seattle, WA, University of Washington Press, 1994), 52.

[9] See also our blog post on Japanese and Japanese Americans in Jim Crow era Virginia. Asian immigrants and Asian Americans did attend white institutions of higher education.

[10] Leslie Bow, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and the Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (New York, New York: New York University Press, 2010), 55.

[11] The Monocle (Richmond, VA), October 8, 1937, accessed May 14, 2020.

[12] Peter Chua, Diane C. Fujino, “Negotiating New Asian-American Masculinities: Attitudes and Gender Expectations,” The Journal of Men’s Studies 7, no. 3 (1999): 392.

[13] Peter Chua, Diane C. Fujino, “Negotiating New Asian-American Masculinities: Attitudes and Gender Expectations,” The Journal of Men’s Studies 7, no. 3 (1999): 391

[14] It Is important to point to the court case Naim v. Naim in 1955, in which Ham Say Naim, a Chinese sailor, and Ruby Elaine Lamberth, a white woman, traveled from their home in Norfolk, Virginia to North Carolina to wed in order to evade Virginia’s restrictive miscegenation laws. One year later Ruby Naim filed for an annulment claiming that the Walter Plecker’s Racial Integrity Act (1924) rendered the marriage null from the onset. This was affirmed by a trial court and also by the Virginia Supreme Court of appeals; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Leslie Bow, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and the Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (New York, New York: New York University Press, 2010), 51.

[15] Gary Y. Okihiro, American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders (Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 2015), 427.

[16] The perceptions of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans slightly began to shift in the 1930s; as the Japanese empire expanded into China, the United States offered the Chinese financial assistance and military personnel as a way to secure its own dominance in the Asiatic regions. Media portrayal of the Chinese also began to change; “Pearl S. Buck’s Pulizter-prizewinning novel The Good Earth (1937) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Hollywood adaptation (1937) introduced a sympathetic portrayal of Chinese peasantry to millions of Americans. Publishing magnate Henry Luce, arguably the most influential mass communicator of the day, did the same through moving depictions of Life magazine of Chinese women and children suffering at the hands of their Japanese oppressors. Time, his other blockbuster venue, crowned China’s president along with first lady generalissimo Madame Chiang Kai-shek, ‘Man and Wife of the Year’ in 1937.” These perceptions certainly did not erase continued harms of Chinese and Asian Americans however. This author does wonder though if any of these pieces connect with the wish of a photo-op with Richmond’s mayor. Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success:Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2014), 45.

[17] Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success:Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2014), 3.

[18] A microaggression is defined as a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. See the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health handout for examples of microaggressions (Content Warning: This handout does include harmful examples of racial microaggressions).

[19] Claire Jean Kim, “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans,” Politics and Society 27 no. 1 (1999): 41.

[20] Leslie Bow, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and the Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (New York, New York: New York University Press, 2010), 4.

[21] Richmond Times Dispatch, 11 December 1939, 4.

Header Image Citation

“Junior and Senior French Societies”, The Marshallite, John Marshall High School, 1936.

Emma Ito

Emma Ito

Former Education & Programs Specialist

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