Chicago exhibition on Chinese cuisine history highlights struggle, success of Chinese immigrants

An exhibition on Chinese dining history highlighting the struggle and success of Chinese immigrants in the United States started Saturday at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago (CCAM) in Chinatown in Chicago.

A letter protesting against racial attacks in 1876, addressed to the San Francisco Chief of Police, is on display.

The letter, written by a group of Chinese, cited racial attacks the same as “what Asian Americans are experiencing today,” said Soo Lon Moy, immediate past president of CCAM.

“We feel it’s important to highlight the Chinese immigrants’ stories of struggles and success in the restaurant business,” Moy told Xinhua. The exhibition aims to “bring to light that Chinese/Chinese Americans have experienced xenophobia and racial violence throughout our history in America.”

“Despite racism and xenophobia, Chinese and Chinese Americans continue to persevere to make contributions and sacrifices in various ways as part of the American history,” Moy said. “It’s very important to tell stories as we are part of the American history.”

“The Chinese helped build America in various ways,” Ben Lau, executive director of CCAM, echoed Moy. “It’s important we bring the message to the public, especially now with the hate crimes against the Chinese.”

The exhibition shows that despite early targeted legislative, legal and labor union barriers, Chinese Americans achieved success in the restaurant business.

“People love food, especially Chinese food,” said Andrea Stamm, co-curator of the exhibition.

The exhibition puts on display the menu, fancy chinaware, and lacquer food baskets of King Joy Lo, once a very opulent Chinese restaurant established in Chicago in 1906. The restaurant was a big hit in early 20th century with live orchestra and dance floor performance.

The exhibition also acknowledges the plight of the current pandemic on Chinese restaurants, along with the recent increase in hate crimes against the Asian community.

Richard Frachey, a 56-year-old resident of Chicago, said he found the exhibition very educational. “It helps me keep learning about Chinese American history in such a meaningful way.”

After the exhibition, which runs to Sept. 26, another exhibition will explore mid-twentieth century Chinese restaurants in October of this year.

The two small-scale exhibitions are prelude to a main exhibition titled “Chinese Cuisine in America: Stories, Struggles and Successes”, scheduled to open in late February 2022.

Founded in 2005, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago is a non-profit institution dedicated to advancing the appreciation of Chinese American culture and its contributions as an important part of the American fabric.