Mississippi Delta Chinese

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, during our time in New Orleans, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde for beignets and hot chocolate. Even though it was quite crowded, we managed to find a table in a corner overlooking Lafayette Square.

Our waitress was an ethnic Chinese woman with a thick New Orleans drawl who called us all “darling” and “honey-child.”

That took us by surprise!

But then I looked around an noticed that nearly all of the wait staff seemed to be Chinese, most of them speaking with thick southern accents.

Clearly, they were not recent immigrants.

Interacting with this sweet Chinese-Louisianan reminded me of a short film that I ran across a few months back about a community of Chinese who have lived in the Mississippi Delta region for over a hundred years. Produced by Al Jazeera as part of a series on Chinese food in America, the reporter introduces us to their life and their food. The title of the piece is The Untold Story of America’s Southern Chinese. 

Here is the video: (email readers: go here to view it)

In March of this year, NPR did a story on the community, titled The Legacy of the Mississippi Delta Chinese. 

Think of the Mississippi Delta. Maybe you imagine cotton fields, sharecroppers and blues music.

It’s been all that. But for more than a century, the Delta has also been a magnet for immigrants. I was intrigued to learn about one immigrant group in particular: the Delta Chinese.

To find out more, I travelled to Greenville, Miss., a small city along the Mississippi River. I meet Raymond Wong in Greenville’s Chinese cemetery, right across a quiet road from an African-American cemetery. Wong’s family has long been part of a thriving — but separate — Chinese community.

“We were in-between,” Wong explains, “right in between the blacks and the whites. We’re not black, we’re not white. So that by itself gives you some isolation.”

Finally, last year documentary filmmaker Samantha Cheng released a film titled Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese. 

The film tells the story of the early Chinese immigrants to the Mississippi Delta during the 19th century; then it explores how the community steadily grew in the early part of the 20th century, as Chinese families across the Delta opened grocery stores that served both the black and white populations. Subsequently, it reveals how 182 Chinese men from the Delta participated in all aspects of the US war effort in WWII, shows the transformational nature of their participation in the war for the development of the community in the decades immediately after the war, and concludes by documenting the contributions of the Chinese Delta families to the state of Mississippi and beyond as t

Their children became doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and many other types of professionals in the contemporary era.

You can see a trailer for the film here.