Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

Tang Family and friends at the family store Ong Yee Lung Grocery Store in Phoenix, AZ. When the father Tang Yick Gin passed away, the mother Fong Shee bought a store/restaurant to support her 5 children. From L to R: Mary (Fong Shee Tang), Mabel Tang, Friend Eleanor, Salesman, Sing John Tang, Mae Tang.
Museum of Chinese in America, Red Binder 51. Leung, Lois Tang Collection

Many Chinese Americans also opened restaurants. Most early Chinese restaurants were run as family businesses; generally the husband worked as the cook and dishwasher in the kitchen while the wife worked as waitress, barmaid, and cashier in the front, which gave her greater contact with the white and Chinese community. At times the recipes were simplified or changed for white patrons.

Yet Chinese restaurants and cooks imported vast quantities of herbs, dried fish and fruits, dried mushrooms, sweets, and rice from China, creating a lasting, albeit modified cuisine in the United States. Chinese food was an immediate, popular and influential cultural presence in the American West. Both in large cities and rural towns across the West, Chinese restaurants started as a service for immigrant men, but eventually drew more non-Chinese customers.  Chinese restaurants also served as an important center of Chinese economic, political, and social life.

A grocery store in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. A woman appears on the center right of the image, although her face is obstructed from view by a bird on a hook.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-46269

Small Chinese grocery stores were also important enterprises before the 1940s. Families often lived in the rear of the store.

"They all lived in the rear of their grocery store, which also exported dried shrimp and seaweed to China. Great-Grandma…took care of the children, made special cakes to sell on feast days, and helped with her husband’s work.”
--- Connie Young Yu “The World of our Grandmothers” 40

After the May Fourth Movement in China (1919) popularized women’s rights, Chinese women in the United States began to work outside the home in larger numbers.  Yet they faced hostility and workplace discrimination, and often found only low-paying jobs sewing in sweat shops and processing food in canneries. 41