"Quiet Odyssey" by Mary Paik Lee.

Essay by res0zsfa February 2006

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Life in the United States was anything but heavenly for Asian Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As vividly described in Mary Paik Lee's autobiography, "Quiet Odyssey", a very large majority of the Asian American population residing in America during this time period "never had enough money for a normal way of life" (Lee, p.9). They usually had to resort to difficult physical labor to barely get by, jeopardizing their health in the process. Japan's subjugation of Korea, even though it actually took place in Korea, greatly affected the Korean population in America, sometimes even causing some of the initial Korean presence in the States. Lee's story reveals some of the obscure aspects of Korean history that otherwise may be more difficult to excavate. It also depicts the racial discrimination severely rampant during this time, and how Asian Americans worked to better their position in American society despite this obstacle.

Asian Americans in Mary Paik Lee's Quiet Odyssey brutally experienced the effects of poverty, degradation, colonialism, and racial discrimination, as reflected in Lee's accounts of personal experience and Asian American Cultures 101 of the University of Washington.

Asian Americans, including Lee and her family, were constantly harassed by poverty and degradation, which eventually led to health deterioration. Even when Asians came equipped with some level of education--such as Lee's father, who had studied to be a minister--they usually had to resort to farming and produce stands, the kinds of degrading jobs reserved specifically for Asian in America, which also included small groceries, tobacco shops, chop suey joints, dry-cleaning and pressing shops, and laundries. These jobs required long and difficult work days only amounting to minimal income, which made Lee's family's main goal "to earn enough money to buy food to feed all of [her family]"...