I wrote this book, Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain, to tell why and how Chinese laundries originated and determined the economic, psychological, and social status of the laundrymen and, for some, their families. First- and second-hand accounts of work and life in their laundries, where many lived in the back, help us see and appreciate how much they achieved despite racial prejudice, hardship, and cultural isolation.
The laundry was the best, and at one time, the only, ‘ticket’ available to Chinese immigrants who came here starting in the middle of the 19th century to seek their fortunes on “Gold Mountain.” However, denied opportunities to most types of work by discriminatory barriers, the hand laundry became their economic lifeline, the meal ticket that enabled them and their descendants to overcome the obstacles confronting them to eventually achieve success on Gold Mountain.
Chinese laundries, born of necessity, became their stereotypical occupation, and in the early 20th century there was at least one located in virtually every town across the land. Today, however, they have all but vanished into history, made obsolete by social and technological changes. Their disappearance makes it all the more important to acknowledge the significant contribution that Chinese laundries made to the history of Chinese in North America.