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Please direct all media inquiries to Jim Yeager at breakwhitelight public relations.
Written by Mark Bittman
The history of Chinese immigrants and citizens in California is long, complicated and not entirely pretty. Like every nonwhite immigrant group (and many white ones), the Chinese were treated as second-class citizens. Quotas were low and citizenship was especially hard to obtain. Furthermore, there were restrictions on family members; the vast majority of early immigrants were men, living alone or in groups, but almost always without women.
Many arrived for the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century and stayed to build the railroads. Then followed a kind of Chinese diaspora spreading eastward and scattering small groups of immigrants throughout the United States. Discrimination and outright racism drove many of them to establish independent businesses, including laundries and… restaurants.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were “Chinatowns” in several American cities, mostly featuring restaurants and shops catering to non-Chinese customers. I visited the one in Los Angeles – which is really quite a relic – with Yong Chen, author of “Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America” – and talked with him at length about this history. That, and our visit to a modern Taiwanese restaurant in Irvine, are the main focus of this video.
Also included is some footage I did subsequently, on the subject of my Times Magazine article from a few weeks ago. For that, I went to China Café, in the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, and cooked, well, chop suey. It rounded things out rather nicely.
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