Facing Predetermined Prejudices Through Decentralized Social Networks: A Study of Chinese Laundrymen in Altoona, Pennsylvania, 1870-1930

Open Access
Author:
Templeton, Jessica Kathryn
Area of Honors:
History
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Tobias Heinrich Albert Brinkmann, Thesis Supervisor
  • Catherine Wanner, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • Chinese laundrymen
  • Altoona
  • Tyrone
Abstract:
Scholarly research on Chinese-American immigrants typically focuses on Chinatowns within the country’s biggest cities or experiences on the western frontier. However, the historical knowledge base is less familiar with the experience of Chinese immigrants in the areas in between. Halfway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, a small Chinese population of laundrymen developed in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Numbering no more than fifteen from roughly 1870 to 1930, this group of Chinese entrepreneurs carved a niche in white-dominated American society far from the physical protection afforded by tightly-knit cultural institutions. In contrast to the consolidated nature of urban Chinatowns, the laundrymen in Altoona were compelled to live in separate locations throughout the city to prevent economic competition with each another. But despite their physical separation, the group maintained a strong social network which met regularly and extended past the boundaries of Altoona to its suburbs and neighboring towns at least fifteen miles away. This ethnic solidarity provided support in a predominantly white society where prejudices and stereotypes were strongly developed even before the arrival of the first Chinese laundryman in the city.