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Food: The identity of immigrants

Stephanie Lam, Staff

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Scrolling through the Oriental restaurant Facebook page, one is instantly greeted with images of crispy Peking duck, chow mein noodles with green vegetables, a warm hearty broth of sweet and sour soup. The food looks pleasing and mouthwatering, but to co-owner Christine Wu, the food holds a different meeting. The Oriental restaurant, inherited from Wu’s in-laws, was founded in 1988 after Wu’s husband and his family immigrated from China to the U.S.

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“[This restaurant] was a way to help my husband’s family survive [in America], and provide the money needed to go to college,” Wu said.

Wu’s family first strived to serve all traditional Cantonese-style dim sum, but later realized that they needed to adapt their food to a more American style.

“[The reason] that they changed the food to American Chinese, was because Chinese cuisine was too different to Americans. They decided that since they were in the United States, they should make the food more towards the non-Asian community.” Wu said.

Wu’s family were not the only immigrants that started their own business. They are just one family out of 12.7 million people in the U.S. restaurant industry, 1.4 million of whom are immigrants.

Greg Fairchild, associate professor of the Buisness Administration of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, discussed this reason in an interview with CNBC.

“Why immigrants are inclined to start their own business is often a matter of necessity…” Fairchild told CNBC. “Even if they have a college degree in their own country, people don’t know those schools in the U.S. They have credentials and knowledge and drive, but they’re not recognized by typical employers. They begin by hiring themselves.”

Nevertheless, Wu and her family enjoy what they do, and are praised by their customers for their family-style restaurant. They are bonded to the restaurant as a reminder of their struggle to survive in America and of their Chinese culture.

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Newsroom by the Bay
Food: The identity of immigrants