Chinese American ‘Food Heritage’: Restaurants and Grocery Stores in “Greater Providence”

A Tour of Chinese American Food Heritage in "Greater Providence"

The food business has been a central aspect of Chinese American life. Along with laundries and factory work, restaurants and grocery stores were key businesses for Chinese immigrants who often could not speak English well and had to quickly make money through a reliable business. Chinese restaurants and grocery stores often became important sites for American communities, not only as businesses employing and sometimes serving Chinese Americans, but also as gathering places for Americans of non-Chinese descent.  Furthermore, the Chinese restaurant and grocery store was a precarious industry, buffeted by the winds of shifting demographics, changes in taste and the aspirations of the next generation. Though a key locus of Chinese American history, their ephemerality makes it difficult to recount and remember their history in the present-day landscape. 

Inspired by the Providence's Chinatown project, this virtual, online tour of Chinese American food heritage in "Greater Providence" goes beyond the Providence's Chinatown project's timeline and explores the history of Chinese Americans in northern Rhode Island from the 1950s to the present day through the lens of food businesses. The first step of the tour examines the changing geography of Chinese American restaurants and grocery stores. The second step of the tour looks at "anchor restaurants" which formed the core of Providence's second Chinatown and no longer exist today. The third step of the tour explores restaurants opened when these "anchor restaurants" were closing, often run by the children of these restaurants' owners. The fourth step of the tour draws from the stories of more recent Chinese immigrants in the food business, and how they make meaning of their businesses and their places in the Chinese community of Rhode Island. The final step of the tour visits two key Chinese American associations in Rhode Island and their role in fostering and supporting the Chinese food business community. 

The tour draws from four oral history interviews conducted in November and December 2018 that Quinton Huang conducted.

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