Brooklyn and the Chinese immigrant

Chinese laborer Goon Bow; photo from Brooklyn Historical Society

Papers for Chinese laborer Goon Bow; photo from Brooklyn Historical Society

Finally, I made it to the Brooklyn Historical Society‘s exhibit Living and Learning: Chinese Immigration, Restriction & Community in Brooklyn, 1850 to Present, which, happily, has been extended to October 18.

Through a series of panels with photos and a couple of census books, the exhibit discusses the reception that Chinese immigrants found in New York in the late 19th century and how they began to make Brooklyn a home. The caricatures are appalling, but they’re not only directed at the Chinese; apparently, there was something of an Irish resistance to Chinese immigration, and defenders of the Chinese did not hesitate to stereotype the Irish in comparison. And Chinese laundries not only offered economic competition but carried a more insidious threat: if men did laundry—women’s work—the sacred concept of manliness was in danger.

Overall I found it a very interesting introduction to the history of Chinese immigration to New York, with a rare focus on street-level Brooklyn and the churches and businesses that were part of Chinese life at the time.

The exhibit also takes a brief look at Sunset Park today, and on the historical society’s website you can download the oral histories of some Chinese-American residents of Sunset Park.

If you’re counting the days until the grand opening of the Museum of Chinese in America on Sept. 22, definitely pay a visit to the BHS.

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