Inside The Lives Of Chinese Restaurant Workers

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Atticus Lish's novel "Preparation for the Next Life" and a recent New Yorker article, "The Kitchen Network" by Lauren Hilgers, have thrown a spotlight onto the plight of the workers in Chinese restaurants.

To find out more, Here & Now's Robin Young spoke to Peter Kwong, professor of immigration and Asian American studies at Hunter College.

Interview Highlights: Peter Kwong

On the influx of Chinese immigrants

“What happened, first people coming in and found possibilities in employment particularly in the New York region because of the large labor market. They started helping their relatives coming in, pretty soon word gets around you can make a lot of money. All the males, mostly male, began to leave the villages. As a result you have many, many village empty out all of the males.”

On the rise of Chinese restaurants and family-run businesses

“Initially in the 80s, there are not many Chinese restaurants.  As these illegals are coming in larger numbers, restaurants began to appear in the suburbs farther and farther away. By now almost every town has a Chinese restaurant or buffet. So that’s the pattern of growth fueled by the number of people continuing to come in looking for jobs. The availability of jobs created by the fact that many early immigrants made enough money and start to open up their own restaurants.”

On living situations for Chinese restaurant workers

“Normally they will be living in a dorm situation, often supplied by the employers and they will be living in very isolated neighborhoods. They don’t speak English and they hardly don’t venture out of their environment. They usually make very low wages although living and food situations are taken care of. So they save as much as they can.”


  • Peter Kwong, professor of immigration and Asian American studies at Hunter College.

This segment aired on December 17, 2014.


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