American asian china chinese culture hand history laundry
Significance: Chinese laundries developed as a major occupation for the first wave of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. Laundries opened throughout the country and became uniquely identified with this ethnic group. The Chinese launderer stereotype appeared in popular culture and media. Although the first Chinese had arrived in the United States in , the first significant wave of Chinese immigration did not occur until soon after the California gold rush in They became contract laborers who worked in the gold mines and on the railroads. However, growing anti- Chinese sentiment and restricted urban labor markets forced the increasing numbers of Chinese immigrants to seek other work.
Combining exhaustive archival research in Chinese language sources and oral history interviews, Renqiu Yu examines the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance CHLA , an organization that originated in to help Chinese laundrymen break their isolation from American society. Yu brings to life the men who labored in New York hand laundries, depicting their meager existence, their struggles against discrimination and exploitation, and their attempts to change the power structure in the Chinese community. The persistent efforts of the CHLA succeeded in changing the laundrymen's status in American society and improving the image of the Chinese among the American public. Yu is especially concerned with the political activities of the CHLA, which was founded in reaction to racist behavior by white competitors and to proposed New York City legislation that would have put the Chinese laundrymen out of business. When the conservative Chinese social organization - the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association - proved ineffectual in helping the laundrymen, they broke with tradition and created their own organization. Not only did the CHLA succeed in reducing the legislative requirements that would have closed down the Chinese hand laundries, but its "people's diplomacy" subsequently took up the cause of providing aid to China during its war with Japan and winning American support for China in that war.
Chinese immigrants from the last quarter of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century operated laundries throughout the U. The popularity of this business among early Chinese was due to several factors. Racial discrimination prevented Chinese from entering many occupations and businesses. The small amount of capital required to start, the low operating expenses, and the ability to function with minimal English language fluency also contributed to the growth of Chinese laundries.
The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance CHLA is a labor organization  formed in to protect the civil rights of overseas Chinese living in North America   and "to help Chinese laundry workers break their isolation in American society. In the United States and Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the occupation of laundry worker was heavily identified with Chinese Americans to the extent that it became "the stereotypical occupation of a whole ethnic group. Around the turn of the 20th century, one in four ethnic Chinese men in the United States worked in a laundry.