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Issue: 614   Date: 05/30/2002

St. Louis Chinese American History (1)

Two Brothers Earn Respect in a Difficult World 

By Scanews

When you sit in Busch Stadium watching St. Louis Cardinals games, you may never imagine this location was once China Town. The first wave of Chinese came to St. Louis in 1869 when many of them lost their jobs as railroad construction workers. At the peak period, the Mid-Pacific Railroad Company hired over 10,000 Chinese laborers. When the westward railroad construction was completed, many became unemployed. Many of them chose to come to St. Louis that was then the 4th largest city in the US.

They found a new way to make a living. The first 3 laundry shops mushroomed into about 100 laundry mates and 60% of clothes washing was done by Chinese. They centered on Hop Alley, between Walnut Street and Market Street. Until 1966, the so-called China Town area gave way to the St. Louis City redevelopment plan.

Many Chinese continue to immigrate to the United States because of the unstable political situation in China. The old generation of Chinese from Canton who spoke mainly Cantonese were gradually being outnumbered by well-educated professionals who mainly spoke Mandarin. Many of them came to America for higher education. Chinese exchange students are the largest foreign students group enrolled in US universities and colleges numbering about 80,000 annually since 1999. After graduation, many of them choose to stay and make the USA their permanent homes.

Chinese Americans made contributions to the nation and became well-known figures, such as An Wang (the Wang computer company), Jerry Yang (the founder of Yahoo), musician Fu Chuong and Yo-Yo Ma, architect I.M. Pei 
(He designed the J. F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts), Maya Lin (She designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial In Washington D.C.). In the media, we hear of Connie Chung, and in the entertainment world, from Bruce Lee to today's Jackie Chan and Jet Li, from Disney's production, Mulan to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Certainly, we will not forget to mention some Chinese Americans who have entered the political arena, such as Elaine Chao (Secretary of State), and Gary Locke (Governor of Washington), etc.

Today, there are about 700 Chinese restaurants and many other businesses in St. Louis. We have a so-called China Town Square, one block east of McKnight on Olive Boulevard. There are super markets, bakery shops, jewelry and gift shops, clinics, dentists, Chinese medicine shops, lawyers, accountants, architects, auto repair shops, insurance, travel and real estate agents, florists, beauty shops, etc. There are three Chinese language schools, eight churches, two Buddhist associations, and over 30 organizations.

To preserve the St. Louis Chinese Americans heritage and culture tradition, St. Louis Chinese American News (Scanews) and Chinese Culture and Education Foundation (CCEF) work with Missouri Historical Society to publish a series of St. Louis Chinese American history stories. This week's story is: "Two Brothers Earn Respect in a Difficult World - Sam Wah Laundry".


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