Chefs at work in the kitchen of a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown, circa 1940. For many Chinese, opening up restaurants became a way to bypass U.S. immigration laws designed to keep them out of the country.
Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
Americans craving Kung Pao chicken or a good lo mein for dinner have plenty of options: The U.S. is home to more than 40,000 Chinese restaurants.
One could think of this proliferation as a promise fulfilled — America as the great melting pot and land of opportunity for immigrants. Ironically, the legal forces that made this Chinese culinary profusion possible, beginning in the early 20th century, were born of altogether different sentiments: racism and xenophobia.
Anti-Chinese sentiment was ra…