If you, as I do, frequently expound on your love for Chinese food- I’m a hit at parties, let me tell ya- around either an elitist or cosmopolitan crowd, you’re bound to hear someone say, “Yeah, but that’s not real Chinese food.” Sure, they’re technically correct, but American Chinese food has merit all its own, and it’s tied to the struggle of Chinese immigrants.
It’s been a rough go for everyone, except billionaires, since the start of the pandemic, but Asian Americans got hit particularly hard- often literally. As America recovers from racially motivated attacks on Asian people that started last year, I think it’s essential to examine the country’s complex relationship with Asian immigrants. Much of that complexity stems from the coquettish yet dismissive attitude America has always shown Asian culture.
Typically, America has always been game to accept any culture while simultaneously rejecting the people who make it possible. Nothing exemplifies that like the strange history of American Chinese food. In the video above, YouTuber Xiran Jay Zhao gives a fascinating walkthrough of the undulating popularity of American Chinese restaurants throughout the 20th century.
After watching the video, you still may not consider American Chinese cuisine the real deal. However, at the very least, you might see it as a crucial ingredient that provided many Asian Americans their first taste of acceptance in a new land.