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1869: The First Californian Chinese in Chicago

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Some books and articles suggest that the first Chinese to settle in Chicago were three brothers named Moy, said to have arrived in 1878.  And yet Chinese individuals did visit and stay in Chicago before that.  Aside from the above-mentioned John Dorming, Charley Pang, and Ah Mei, a good many laundrymen set up shop in the city from 1872 onward.  Most came via the new transcontinental railroad that was completed in 1869.  The same year saw the arrival of one of the earliest visitors from the West Coast: Choy Chew, described as a merchant, who gave a speech to a Chicago (businessman's?) group.  Modern readers may find that the speech, as reported in Scientific American, is overly ingratiating.  But, as the magazine's writer implies, the speech does show that Choy Chew was a talented linguist as well as a merchant of sufficient stature to be invited to give a speech at a European-American banquet.

A later article in Harper's Weekly (Sept 4, 1869, page 574) states that Choy Chew was a San Franciscan.  After visiting Chicago with a fellow merchant, Sing Man, he traveled onward to New York.  Local businessmen there regarded the two as "representatives of Chinese industry and commerce" and may well have invited them to give more speeches.

"A Chinaman on the Chinese Question

"Whatever may be the average intellect of the Chinese, there can be no doubt of the intellect of the man who made the following speech.  The remarks were delivered by Choy Chew, a Chinese merchant at a recent banquet in Chicago:

" 'Eleven years ago I came from my home to seek my fortune in your great Republic.  I landed on the golden shore of California, utterly ignorant of your language, unknown to any of your people, a stranger to your customs and laws, and in the minds of some an intruder -- one of that race whose presence is deemed a positive injury to the public prosperity.  But gentlemen, I found both kindness and justice.  I found that above the prejudice that had been formed against us, that the hand of friendship was extended to the people of every nation, and that even Chinamen must live, be happy, successful and respected in 'free America."  I gathered knowledge in your public schools; I learned to speak as you do; and, gentlemen, I rejoice that it is so; that I have been able to cross this vast continent without the aid of an interpreter; that here in the heart of the United States I can speak to you in your own familiar speech, and tell you how much, how very much, I appreciate your hospitality; how grateful I feel for the privileges and advantages I have enjoyed in your glorious country; and how earnestly I hope that your example of enterprise, energy, vitality, and national generosity may be seen and understood, as I see and understand it, by our Government ...

" ' We trust our visit, gentlemen, may be productive of good results to all of us; that the two great countries, East and West, China and America, may be found forever together in friendship, and that a Chinaman in America, or an American in China, may find like protection and like consideration in their search for happiness and wealth.' "

Reference: Scientific American, new series, vol. 21, no. 9, p. 131 (August 28, 1869)

Research & writing by Ben Bronson and Chuimei Ho; copyright 2004-2006 by the Chinatown Museum Foundation.