The Invention of the Chinese Laundry

a neon “hand laundry” sign glows in the window of a laundry above a rack of hanging shirts wrapped in plastic
a laundry on the Upper East Side, NYC, 2015 (taken by the author)

Small businesses have long been the bastion of first-generation immigrants starting out in America and hoping to build a life here. There was a time when Chinese laundries were as common as the corner bodega or mini-mart. Once industrial washing machines came along, though, many hand laundries went the way of the dinosaurs. In their place a new business sprung up: Chinese takeouts.