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Chinatown(s) in the USA

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Summer Volume: 2010 Issue: 17(2) page(s): 13

Four Hundred Years of History of the Chinese in America is the title of a brochure sponsored by the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation. We picked up a copy at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) before it moved to its new and nifty quarters at 215 Center Street a few blocks uptown from Manhattan's Chinatown. Like many others, this Chinatown has expanded.

MOCA used to be on the second floor of an old school at 70 Mulberry Street in the heart of Chinatown. After a grand opening celebration this past Fall, it is now in a big beautiful multi-level space planned by a well-known Chinese architect. This museum is no-longer in a shared space, no longer cramped, and is it beautiful! It recognizes that the Chinese have come a long way and are now accepted, and appreciated. It tells their story, including that of Chinese food.

MOCA is the first full-time professionally staffed museum dedicated to reclaiming, preserving, and interpreting the history and culture of Chinese and their descendants in the Western Hemisphere. Write to them for that brochure, it tells its tale starting in the 1600's using Spanish records documenting Chinese Settlements in Acapulco, and later in Mexico City circa 1635. Its time-line shows three Chinese seamen in Baltimore in 1785, the first anti-Chinese riots in Tuslumne County in California in 1850.; and that in 1854, it says that Yung Wing is the first Chinese to graduate from an American University.

From 1863 to 1869, this brochure's time-line shows Chinese as workers helping to build the transcontinental railroad. In Cuba in 1873, the Chinese emperor orders the Cuban Commission Report. It is about conditions of Chinese workers on their sugar plantations.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed in 1882 suspending immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States, also denying citizenship. Later, in 1898, the United States Supreme Court concedes that a child of Chinese descent born in the United states is an American Citizen.

In 1913, the California Alien Land Acts prohibit Chinese and Japanese from owning land; other states soon pass similar laws. In 1922, the Cable Act decrees that any American woman who weds an alien ineligible for citizenship shall cease to be an American citizen. And finally, in 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed; in 1965, the Immigration and Naturalization Act repealed as well, abolishing restrictive quotas on race and nationality.

When President Nixon visits China in 1972, his talks prepared for and during the opening, paves the way for Chinese-Americans to visit China for the first time in more than twenty years. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declares a week in May to be called Asian Pacific American Heritage. The following year, MOCA becomes a reality, and ten years later, President George Bush extends the week, making it a month-long celebration.

Wendy Tan of CUNY's Hunter College researches and reports about this and other Chinatown communities in the United States while Indigo Sam documents Chinese restaurants. Flavor and Fortune, since 1994, has been writing about Chinese food in the United States, Europe, Canada, Central and South America, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. Chinese foods, eaten by more people at every meal every single day than any other ethnic food, clearly celebrates Chinese food.

Tan reports that of the two million Asians in America, three hundred thousand are Chinese. They live in all fifty of the United States. Chinese Restaurant News reports they mail their magazine to more than forty-six thousand Chinese restaurants in the United States, and send twenty-five thousand more to those of other Asian cuisines, many selling Chinese food.

Some fascinating statistics include that the first Chinese restaurants in this country were in San Francisco. Check the index of this magazine to read about them. In 1906, an earthquake in that city and a resulting fire, does destroy most of them. Many rebuild nearby. Today, there are some seven thousand Chinese restaurants in California and some five thousand in the state of New York. Texas and Florida follow with about three thousand each, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have nearly two thousand each, and Illinois has some eighteen hundred Chinese restaurants. Next is Georgia with fifteen hundred; Ohio has almost that number. The states with more than one thousand each, in decreasing order, are Virginia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Michigan. How many are in your state and in your city, how many are in your neighborhood?

Almost all Chinese restaurants are run by and/or employ Chinese in management, the kitchen, and/or serving their customers. Did you know that the Chinese restaurant industry is the largest employer of Chinese in the United States? Now you do!

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