Why Does America Have So Many Chinese Restaurants?

Heather R. Lee, NYU Shanghai

After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a joint restaurant owner could gain legal status if he ran the enterprise for at least one year. To help as many newcomers as possible, “chop suey palaces” spread like wildfire and regularly rotated their management. 

Lee’s Basic Facts brief presents highlights from her fascinating research on the early proliferation of Chinese restaurants and suggests the difficult challenges faced by immigrant workers in these establishments.

Heather Lee is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She studies transnational flows of people between Asia and North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a special focus on ethnic entrepreneurial strategies in the face of exclusionary immigration laws. In addition to developing publications for academic audiences, Lee contributes to public education by collaborating on museum exhibitions and historical society projects. She has also worked with immigrant rights organizations on reforms such as the DREAM Act to help undocumented people who were originally brought as minors to the United States.

May 2015