Laura and Harry Chin
Laura and Harry Chin

The March 2017 production of Paper Dreams of Harry Chin premiered by the History Theatre in St. Paul has sparked much interest in the Chinese Immigrant Experience.  Many second or third generation Chinese Americans are finding a spot in their hearts that has been covered over for many years.   Here we offer you a space to explore that spot.  Perhaps there are areas in your family history that you don’t already know?  Perhaps one of your fathers or grandfathers was a paper son and that ‘secret’ has been closely guarded in your family?   We encourage you to share your or your family’s immigrant history/experiences.  Please write to [email protected].  Essays may be edited by our editorial staff for length and style.

From time to time we will also be uploading essays/summaries of publications that are related to this subject.   Relevant events in various periods in U.S. history may appear as well.  We invite you to suggest topics or heartwarming stories that may resonate with our readers.

Early Chinese Immigrants in Minneapolis
Immigrants from China first arrived in North America before the United States became a nation, working as sailors and merchants on Spanish galleons, sailing between Mexico and the Philippines. The United States acquired much of Mexico’s northern territory in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican – American War. By this time, many small communities of Chinese immigrants in California were already established, and that number only grew during the next few decades as many came to America to test their luck during the California gold rush and to help complete the first transcontinental railroad.
The Wongs at Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Founded in 1988 by historians Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum ( is housed in a former tenement building at 97 Orchard Street in New York City. In 2006 it purchased another tenement building down the street at 103 Orchard and set out to restore a 1,000-square-foot apartment in the building.
Joe Huie’s Café
Joe Huie’s Café—an iconic Duluth landmark—was a modest eatery that became a community hub between its founding in 1951 and its closing in 1973. Owned by an enterprising Chinese immigrant, the restaurant served classic American Chinese, authentic Chinese, and down-home American food to a broad swath of customers with humor and hospitality.
Early U.S. China Trade
According to Chinese legend, China’s first ruler was the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, who ruled around 3,000 B.C. His wife, Empress Hsi-Ling-Shih, was said to have introduced sericulture (the growing of silkworms for silk production) and invented the loom on which silk fabric is woven. Almost immediately silk became a precious and luxury item, and by the Han Dynasty (206 B.C to 220 A.D) sericulture and silk weaving had become a major industry. Silk was soon exported to Europe along the caravan routes across Central Asia and became such a popular commodity that the caravan route became known as the Silk Road.
Chinese Railroad Workers
The contributions made by Chinese workers in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad deserve to be better known. Historian Erika Lee wrote in her definitive book, The Making of Asian America (P. 72-74), that “in 1865, the first Chinese workers were hired by the Central Pacific Railroad as track layers on the great transcontinental railroad heading east from Sacramento. Company president Leland Stanford praised the Chinese as ’quiet, peaceable, industrious, economical,’ and rightly acknowledged that ‘without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great National highway.’
Erika Lee Creates #ImmigrationSyllabus
In the fall 2017 edition of the U MN College of Liberal Arts Roadmap Report, the spotlight was on Erika Lee, director of the University’s Immigration History Research Center, who, together with immigration scholars all across the U.S., created the #ImmigrationSyllabus, an online resource on immigration history, research and analysis. Lee says, “I was looking for a way to share our expertise with the public and to do so beyond the typical academic avenues".
Chinese Immigrants in Tuscany
This article traces the history of Chinese immigrants in the industrial zone around Prato, Italy, an area known for its artisans in the textile and leather industry. Chinese immigrants, mostly from Wenzhou (south of Shanghai) began arriving in the 1990s, seeking better wages. Some came with tourist visas and simply stayed on, while others paid smugglers large sums to get in.