How Chop Suey Saved San Francisco’s Chinatown

Food can reveal a lot about a culture. Most of us can identify certain dishes that are associated with holidays and rituals, from the Thanksgiving Turkey to Sabzi Polow Ba Mahi for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Often there are stories embedded in these dishes that are passed along each time we eat them, like memes.

AJ+, which describes itself as “news for the connected generation, sharing human struggles, and challenging the status quo.” Just released Chinese Food: An All-American Cuisine, a three-part series of short videos on the experiences of Chinese immigrants to the United States. The blog Here’s What Chinese Menus Can Teach Us About Immigration provides a wonderful introduction to the collection. Below, I have embedded the first video in the series, How Chop Suey Saved San Francisco’s Chinatown.  The introduction to the series explains that San Fransico is home to the oldest Chinatown in America and that the neighborhood’s Chinese food has been used to preserve the culture and as a source of resistance.

Reflection Questions

  1. What do we learn about the history of Chinese immigration to the United States in this short film?
  2. What assumptions did people in the US make about Chinese food, and the people of China, from their limited experiences with Chinese cuisine?
  3. How did the people of San Fransico’s Chinatown save the neighborhood from destruction? What does it suggest about the relationship between Chinese immigrants and the larger community?
  4. From the perspective of Chinese immigrants in San Fransico, what role does Chinatown play?