A social history of the role of the Chinese laundry on the survival of early Chinese immigrants in the U.S.during the Chinese Exclusion law period, 1882-1943, and in Canada during the years of the Head Tax, 1885-1923, and exclusion law, 1923-1947. Why and how Chinese got into the laundry business and how they had to fight discriminatory laws and competition from white-owned laundries to survive. Description of their lives, work demands, and living conditions. Reflections by a sample of children who grew up living in the backs of their laundries provide vivid first-person glimpses of the difficult lives of Chinese laundrymen and their families.
John gives an overview of the book:
From the Preface
A confluence of adverse circumstances in the impoverished villages of Guangdong province in southeastern China led thousands of young men to leave and seek their fortune abroad in the mid to late 19th century. California, or “Gold Mountain,” as it was called after gold was discovered there in 1848, was an attractive destination, and soon gold finds in Canada, Alaska, and Australia lured others. But Chinese were not allowed to work the best mining sites anywhere and then they were similarly driven out of other work in fishing, farming, and manufacturing.
Many Chinese had to spend their Gold Mountain days washing and ironing laundry for a living under conditions of cultural isolation and racial oppression. For over a century, the hand laundry was the stereotypical occupation for the Chinese. The laundry was made obsolete by social and technological changes by the last part of the 20th century.
The laundry ticket became an emblem of the Chinese hand laundry. Although a laundry ticket is nothing more than a small piece of paper that serves as a claim check linking each customer with his laundry items, it came to be used to ridicule Chinese as in the well-known mocking expression, “no tickee, no washee.” Chinese laundrymen, if they ever used the actual phrase or its variants, “no tickee, no laundee” or “no tickee, no shirtee,” were justified in their demand. Requiring a customer to present a ticket to claim their laundry is not unreasonable because without it, locating the customer’s clothing is made difficult. Furthermore, someone might claim clothing that was not his own.
Whites looked down at Chinese, their attire, their food, and their language. They derogated the Chinese characters the laundryman scribbled on the ticket to inventory the customer’s laundry, as ‘chicken feet scratches.’ This response reflected as well as reinforced white views that the Chinese had alien and inscrutable Oriental ways. Whites enjoyed poking fun at the difficulty Chinese had in pronouncing English, and “no tickee, no washee” was a popular phrase for ridiculing the laundryman. ...
“No tickee, no washee” has since come to be used as a catch-phrase for an impasse in conflicted transactions quite unrelated to laundries, or even ones involving Chinese. Still, the term casts a derogatory tone toward Chinese and it is unfortunate that it remains in use long after Chinese laundries have almost completely disappeared from modern life. ...
A completely different meaning of ticket, a means of gaining admission beyond a barrier, is the sense that is intended by its inclusion in the title of this book. The laundry was the best, and at one time, the only, ‘ticket’ available to Chinese immigrants to rise from their low position in society. They came here in the middle of the 19th century to seek fortune on “Gold Mountain,” but were denied opportunities by discriminatory barriers. The laundry became their economic lifeline, the meal ticket for the Chinese and their descendants that enabled them to overcome the obstacles confronting them and achieve success on Gold Mountain.
The inspiration for writing Chinese Laundry Tickets was my recently acquired awareness and understanding of the vital role of the hand laundry in the survival of Chinese immigrants from the late 19th century until the end of World War II. I knew first-hand how difficult it was to earn a living running a laundry from growing up in the only Chinese family in Macon, Georgia, where my parents operated a laundry. But, I did not realize that thousands of earlier Chinese laundrymen had endured equally, or greater, hardships than my family experienced until I did research for writing a memoir about our experiences. In fact, I did not even know that for almost 50 years prior to my father coming to Macon in 1928, other Chinese had operated the very laundry he acquired.
I am a psychologist by training, and have a love for history, so my approach in this book blends the two disciplines. In the early chapters, I focus on historical documents and resources to explain why and how hand laundries assumed increasing importance for Chinese during the years of their exclusion, 1882-1943. Laundrymen, classified as laborers, not only were excluded during these 61 years, but those already here were not allowed to bring their families here. Yet, laundrymen, as well as other Chinese, found ways to circumvent these unfair laws to gain entry. Although tactics such as the “paper son” method do not directly pertain to laundries, I discuss it at length because without it, the thousands of Chinese laundries here could never have existed.
The laundry, in view of the exclusion of Chinese from many other occupations, had an essential role in the development of the economic, social, and psychological status of the early Chinese immigrants and their families, both here and in China. Their success was not an easily gained victory as laundry work soon also became contested by discriminatory laws and taxes in the context of persistent hostile media images of Chinese laundrymen as well as the demeaning, belittling, and sometimes physically abusive treatment they suffered from the prevailing racist attitudes of white society.
My psychology background surfaces in later chapters. I examined first- and second-hand accounts of the work activities and daily experiences of laundrymen and, in some instances, their families. This evidence shows how much laundrymen achieved through their labor and resolve despite years of racial prejudice, discriminatory laws, and cultural isolation.
The social networking among laundrymen is the focus of one chapter. This analysis, based on 19 male relatives of my great, great-grandfather that ran laundries in the American South spanning over 100 years, focuses on a neglected but vital aspect of immigration. How did familial networks develop to create migration chains of men who came over earlier helping later arriving relatives in gaining entry into the country and in surviving with financial, informational, and emotional support.
Another chapter presents recollections about daily life in laundries from a small sample of individuals from varied regions of the U. S. and Canada that literally grew up above or behind their family stores. These inside perspectives provide invaluable insight on how laundry families functioned from day to day. I am grateful to these ‘children, and two grandchildren, of the laundry’ for their trust and willingness to make public their laundry experiences. The reflections of Eliz Chan, Laura Chin, Bill Eng, Ken Lee, Lucy Wong Leonard, Harvey Low, Jeff Low, Donna Wong, and Elwin Xie testify to the resourcefulness and strength of their laundry parents in surviving and raising their children successfully. Their observations about their adult lives illustrate the powerful impact that their laundry experiences had on their personal development.
A final chapter examines the significant economic influence of the laundry for Chinese immigrants, and their families, throughout North America well into the past century. It concludes with a discussion of factors leading to the inevitable obsolescence of the hand laundry and the emergence of the restaurant after the end of World War II as the primary family-run business for Chinese immigrants.
PRAISE For "CHINESE LAUNDRIES"
…important window into the history of the early Chinese immigrants. . . The laundrymen faced struggles, challenges, and even disappointments; yet, the Chinese laundry became a valued and necessary enterprise …
Sylvia Sun Minnick, SamFow: The San Joaquin Chinese Legacy and Stockton's Chinese Community
.… a significant contribution to the history of Chinese laundries … best told by someone like Jung who experienced a ‘laundry life,’ and understands its psychological impact on the Chinese laundrymen and their families. . .
Murray K. Lee, Curator of Chinese American History, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
… rewarding study of an era marked by invention born of dire necessity, an unforgiving host society that demanded Chinese laundrymen’s services but then punished them for being too good at it, … a long overdue analysis of a familiar experience hidden in plain sight.
Mel Brown, Chinese Heart of Texas, The San Antonio Chinese Community, 1875-1975.
… a welcome contribution to Chinese American studies that depicts the plight of early generations of Chinese caught in the predicament of operating laundries to provide for their families, ... while enduring extreme hardship and loneliness ... inclusion of historic documents, photographs, newspaper article excerpts, and revealing personal stories and insider observations from a few of the many who, like the author, grew up and worked in their family laundries. The subject deserves attention and further exploration in view of the significant impact that the laundry had not only on the Chinese American experience, but also in the social and cultural histories of the U.S. and Canada
Joan S. Wang, Race, Gender, and Laundry Work: The Roles of Chinese Laundrymen and American Women in the United States, 1850–1950, Journal of American Ethnic History
… a remarkable book...a comprehensive historical study of the Chinese laundries in the United States, a profound analysis of the psychological experiences of the Chinese laundrymen in America and their families in China; and above all, written by someone who has intimate experiences with the Chinese laundry, it is a tribute to those Chinese immigrants whose labor and sacrifice laid the foundation of the Chinese American community, and a testimony of the Chinese laundrymen’s resilience, resourcefulness, and humanity.
Renqiu Yu, To Save China, To Save Ourselves, The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York.
From the Foreword:
What is remarkable is the combination of this historical perspective with his social psychological descriptions and analyses of laundrymen and their descendants. The personal life stories, with their inner thought, feeling, values, attitudes, work experiences and survival hardships, are skillfully presented with penetrating insights and observations. These perspectives present an overall picture of the history and the life and work of the laundrymen.
Ban Seng Hoe, Curator of Asian Studies, Canadian Museum of Civilization
Born in Macon, Georgia, where his immigrant parents from China, the only Chinese in the city, owned a laundry. After moving to California, he majored in psychology at U. C. Berkeley and went on to earn a Ph.D. at Northwestern University. Author of several academic textbooks,...