New York Chinatown: Chinatown_Glick_15

Big Tall Chin behind the counter holding the front door open and looking out at the street, Sam Wah Laundry, 1980 Creston Ave., Bronx, New York, 1982

Big Tall Chin, Sam Wah Laundry, 1980 Creston Ave., Bronx, New York, 1982. 

Mrs. Chin’s husband, Quock Chin, had been murdered in a robbery at the laundry at 1980 Creston Ave. on Dec. 29, 1981 a couple of weeks before I took these photos in January 1982. 

Lemin Chin, Big T’s daughter, remembers life in the laundry: 

“The day started at seven o’clock in the morning and my father wouldn’t come home until after ten o’clock (at night). All day long, seven days a week. Everything was done by hand. We went there to help out as kids. The prices were maybe 10, 20 or 30 cents for a shirt. It was not a lot of money. 

My parents raised four kids, and three adults on the laundry. We weren’t rich. Unfortunately, we used to see these jobs as not very prestigious. That’s why it’s rare to see a family portrait in a laundry. You wouldn’t send them back to home (to China) to show people what your life was like.” 

Hand laundries like this one were a bread and butter industry for the New York Chinese community. In the 1930s there were over 3,500 Chinese-owned laundries in New York City. Many Chinese men opened laundries because they were forced out of other industries, and because laundry work could be done without much training and little English proficiency. Hand laundry work was known as the “8 Pound Livelihood” because the irons used to press each garment by hand weighed about 8 lbs. Owners often lived in their laundry so kitchens and beds were a typical feature of these work spaces.