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Gangster Dreams: How Chinatown Organized Crime Engineered the Chinese Restaurants Industry in the United States
Heather Lee | New York University
Gangster Dreams reveals how New York’s most powerful Chinese gane transformed Chinese restaurants from a marginal institution into a national mass consumer business. In the 1880s, members of the On Leong opened restaurants in Chinatown to entertain local powerbrokers who helped them dominate the underground economy. Their restaurants attracted bohemian men and women, whose enthusiasm in print and art made eating Chinese food a coveted urban activity. At the turn of the century, On Leong leaders expanded beyond Chinatown, running upscale restaurants that served hundreds nightly. In 1915, ringleaders leveraged popular appreciation of Chinese food to win exemptions to anti-Chinese immigration laws for restaurant owners. They parlayed these privileges into lucrative human smuggling operations, using their restaurants across the United States to secure visas for people in China. The On Leong weathered Prohibition and the Great Depression by profiting from and entrapping illegal immigrants in restaurant work.
Heather Lee is an assistant professor of history at NYU Shanghai. She is completing a book on the history of Chinese restaurants in New York City and developing a database of historical Chinese restaurants in the United States. Her research has been featured in NPR, Atlantic magazine, and Gastropod, a podcast on food science and history. She has advised and curated exhibitions at the New York Historical Society, the National Museum of American History, and the Museum of Chinese in America.
Wednesday, October 18 | 5:00 pm
Bobst Library | Room 745, 7th Floor, AFC
Open to the Public | Light Refreshments will be served
All are welcome! Please register if you plan to attend.