Chinese hand laundries once were a fixture in every town and city throughout North America. They were so common place that the occupation of “laundryman” became the stereotypical Chinese occupation. Laundrymen were socially isolated, often living in remote areas where there were few other Chinese. They endured a life of drudgery and faced continual racial hostility and prejudice.
Why did so many Chinese immigrants turn to operating laundries?
They were first attracted to North America by the gold rush of the mid 1800’s and were later hired to build the railways in both Canada and the United States. But when the gold rush ended and railroad construction finished, the Chinese immigrants were no longer wanted.
They gravitated to jobs shunned by the white community, jobs like washing clothes. But hostility and racism persisted and was often expressed in violence and sanctioned by law. They were socially isolated and struggled to deal with a growing tide of racism. Despite these obstacles, the Chinese laundryman persevered and they endured so that their children would have a better life.
In this hour-long broadcast by Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) Radio, producer Yvonne Gall explores the legacy of these Chinese pioneers through the stories related by four children who grew up in their parents’ laundries.