Heather Ruth Lee
Heather Lee is an assistant professor of history at NYU Shanghai. She is completing a book on the history of Chinese restaurants in New York City anddeveloping a database of historical Chinese restaurants in the United States. Her research has been featured in NPR, Atlantic magazine, and Gastropod, a podcast on food science and history. She has advised and curated exhibitions at the New York Historical Society, the National Museum of American History, and the Museum of Chinese in America.
「 Restaurant Politics: How the Chinese Brokered Alliances with New York's Political Machine, 1878-1887 」
This paper looks at how Tom Lee, the founder of Chinatown’s most powerful organization forged political alliances through ritualistic banquet meals. Starting in 1878, Lee invited important persona in New York’s political machine, Tammany Hall, for formal dinners. He timed these events for moments of Chinese weakness, when physical and legal attacks on Chinese persons and businesses intensified in the city. He also invited reporters to cover the evening in newspaper articles that were syndicated across the United States. Through these carefully orchestrated dinners, Lee explained to the wider world his influence over and beyond Chinatown. He held the first banquet at his private home, though these gatherings outgrew his parlor room in size and political significance. Expanding the meeting space to match his ambitions, Lee transformed several Chinatown addresses into upscale banquet halls in the mid-1880s. These restaurants served as the Chinese’s dancehall and clubhouse. At them, Lee held all significant gatherings, from annual evenings for Tammany Hall to cultural celebrations for Chinese New Year and 1-year birthdays American-born sons. This paper covers the early history of Lee’s political dinners, showing how he preserved the Chinese toehold in urban politics and economy through alliances with the attendees.