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Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean Woman in America

by Mary Paik Lee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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781255,423 (4.08)2
Mary Paik Lee, born Paik Kuang Sun in 1900, left her native country in 1905, traveling with her parents as a political refugee after Japan imposed control over Korea at the close of the Russo-Japanese War. Her father labored in the sugar plantations of Hawaii for a year and a half before taking his family to California, where Mrs. Lee has lived ever since. Though her father knew the comforts enjoyed by the educated traditional elite in Korea, after emigration he and his family shared the poverty stricken existence endured by thousands of Asian immigrants in early twentieth century America. Mrs. Lee's parents earned their living as farm laborers, tenant farmers, cooks, and janitors, and the family always took in laundry. Her father tried mercury mining until his health gave out. In their turn, Mrs. Lee and her husband farmed, sold produce, and managed apartment buildings. The author is engagingly outspoken and is extremely observant of her social and natural surroundings. Recounted incidents take on memorable life, as do the sharply etched settings of California's agricultural and mining country. She tells of singular hardship surmounted with resilience and characteristic grace. During much of her life Asian Americans were not treated as full human beings, yet she kept a powerful vision of what the United States could be.… (more)

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» See also 2 mentions

Memoir of early (1905) immigrant family. Hardships, abject poverty, mining and hardscrabble farming life, being female.
  sungene | Oct 30, 2007 |
Lee's indomitable spirit pervades this absorbing autobiography spanning much of the 20th century. Born in 1900, the author left Korea in 1905 with her family, as political refugees. Among the earliest Korean immigrants to America, they settled in California, where they faced a constant struggle for the bare necessities, living wherever Lee's father could find work, often as an agricultural laborer. In addition to economic adversity, Lee often encountered racism. Determined to attend high school, she endured lectures about "stinking Chinks and dirty Japs." After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she had to stop three teenagers from striking her child. Even such unreasoned hatred could not break Lee who, from the perspective of the 1980s, sees in her children's successes the triumph of a century of cultural change. Chan, author of This Bittersweet Soil and a professor of history and Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara, supplements the memoir with historical background. Her notes help make this brief, accessible volume a worthwhile addition to the scholarship on Asian American culture.
added by chidori | editPublishers Weekly
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Paik Leeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chan, SuchengEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yoo, David K.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mary Paik Lee, born Paik Kuang Sun in 1900, left her native country in 1905, traveling with her parents as a political refugee after Japan imposed control over Korea at the close of the Russo-Japanese War. Her father labored in the sugar plantations of Hawaii for a year and a half before taking his family to California, where Mrs. Lee has lived ever since. Though her father knew the comforts enjoyed by the educated traditional elite in Korea, after emigration he and his family shared the poverty stricken existence endured by thousands of Asian immigrants in early twentieth century America. Mrs. Lee's parents earned their living as farm laborers, tenant farmers, cooks, and janitors, and the family always took in laundry. Her father tried mercury mining until his health gave out. In their turn, Mrs. Lee and her husband farmed, sold produce, and managed apartment buildings. The author is engagingly outspoken and is extremely observant of her social and natural surroundings. Recounted incidents take on memorable life, as do the sharply etched settings of California's agricultural and mining country. She tells of singular hardship surmounted with resilience and characteristic grace. During much of her life Asian Americans were not treated as full human beings, yet she kept a powerful vision of what the United States could be.

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