#277: A Home in Chinatown

In the 1860s, Chinese immigrants built vast stretches of railroad in the American West. But two decades later, they found themselves the targets of the first federal law restricting immigration by race and nationality: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which remained on the books until 1943. One of writer Ava Chin’s forefathers worked on the railroad, and much of her family suffered from the consequences of the Exclusion Act. The violence it enabled pushed both sides of her family east, to New York City. Chin, raised by her mother’s relatives in Queens, had grown up without meeting her father or his family—until years of research led her to a building on Mott Street where, she soon learned, both sides of her family spent decades living, squabbling, and loving. Chin’s new book, Mott Street, is the result of painstaking research across continents and oceans, into oral and written records, to trace five generations of Chinese-American history.

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