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Scholar Documents Economic War on Chinese Restaurants

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by Gia Savage


New research reveals another level of the United States’ exploitation of and discrimination against Chinese Americans. University of California, Davis law professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin and research assistant John Ormonde have uncovered evidence of economic bias over the years against Chinese restaurants through a search of digital archives.

Gabriel “Jack” Chin

Chin has been conducting research on race and the law and Asian Americans and the law for over 20 years. He discovered the restaurant bias years ago, but was not completely sure of how it connected to a broader historical point. He and Ormonde, the study’s co-author, decided to dig deeper.

“We spent some time to see what else we could find out about the treatment of Chinese restaurants in this period,” said Chin.

By using digital archives, Chin and Ormond were able to find a disadvantageous pattern of jobs and economic growth being withheld from Chinese restaurants.

“It shows an unfortunate tradition of good jobs being reserved for Whites,” said Chin. “The unions that approached the Chinese restaurants frankly and explicitly argued that Whites should patronize White restaurants, and give their business to White people, and Chinese shouldn’t have these opportunities.”

Though once inaccessible because their existence was limited to paper copy, archived newspapers, records of city council proceedings and outdated state codes are what led to the discovery of a “war” on Chinese restaurants that lasted over 30 years. These documents have been digitized, which makes them more accessible to those interested in viewing.

As Chinese food and restaurants became popular in the United States, traditional American restaurants were suddenly at risk of losing business.

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The war was mostly discriminatory actions that were imposed out of fear of economic competition with American restaurants and the notion that White women needed protection from Chinese men.

From 1890 to 1920, all-White labor unions in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and New York utilized different legal tactics to eliminate business for Chinese restaurants.

Restaurants were boycotted, denied licenses, and accused of being places of drug use. The American Federation of Labor endorsed a law that prohibited White women from working in Asian restaurants.

In a June 12 article published by UC Davis, Chin said, “To a certain extent, this was a rationalization. The driving force was economic competition. The restaurant industry was lucrative, and this was an effort to reserve that industry for whites.”

This newfound evidence serves as proof that there are elements of American history in law and business that were only developed to be an advantage to White Americans.

Though a publishing date is not official, according to Chin, “It should be within 4-6 months, but there is a version of the paper online.”

The report will be published in the Duke Law Journal.

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