Chinese American families;Family history;Chinatown (New York, N.Y.);Laundry industry;Laundry;Taishan Shi (Guangdong Sheng, China);Taishan;Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America;Immigration & society;Technological innovations
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1980.001.001 Oral History Interview with Mr. Tam

Mr. Tam, a Toisan (Taishan) native, has worked in the laundry industry from the time he immigrated to the U.S. in 1951 to the time of the interview in 1980. Forced to flee after the communist victory in China, he was sponsored by his older brother, with whom he worked at Zhongshan Wet Wash before being able to strike out on his own in 1964. Due to U.S. immigration policy, he was initially unable to sponsor his wife and family and found being separated from them very stressful. Mr. Tam’s grandfather was part of the earliest generations of immigrants (laohuaqiao) who came to the U.S. in the 1800s. His grandfather saved money while doing laundry work then returned to China around the 1910s to start his own business.  Mr. Tam lived through pivotal decades in the history of Chinese laundries in New York, including witnessing the older generations living and working at hand laundries when he first arrived, the arrival of newer immigrants, the change to large-scale wholesale shirt press and wet wash models, and the shift from old to new style machines. In this interview, he speaks about this history, as well as provides a window into the industry’s golden era and darkest years, the number of laundries in the city at the time, working conditions, unionization, prices, and prevailing wages. He also shares background information about his family and life before immigrating. This interview was conducted in Cantonese.