The Calico Dress, Family Laundry, 1906
Because of the circumstances of turn-of-the-century Chinese immigrants to America, many of them had few alternatives to mining, working in restaurants or laundries. Operating a laundry required relatively little capital, education or English fluency. Often times, entire families lived crammed together in the back of their laundry storefronts. While the parents worked, the children helped however they could.
It was hot, 14-hour-per-day work and after lunch the young man ironing struggles to stay alert while the mother does the mending. Chinese culture, food and clothing may have been replicated in Chinatowns on the West Coast, yet everything around the tight-knit communities was different. “I posed the daughter curiously trying on the calico dress brought in by their American customer,” says the artist. Is she wondering what it feels like to be an American girl or is it only a strange costume?