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Chinese Family Associations Assist New Immigrants

Thomas Chinn (1909-1997) was the founder, publisher, and editor of the Chinese Digest, the first English-language weekly newspaper for Chinese Americans in the United States, and later the Chinese News. In this interview, Chinn describes the origins of the Chinese family associations that sprang up as a way to provide for struggling immigrants.

Q: When your father came here and settled down--if settling down it was, since he was away so much working--did he join any of the Chinese associations in North Bend?

A: No, because in all of Coos Bay County, Oregon, there were only three Chinese families. Therefore, no associations. But in large towns where many Chinese lived, associations generally found roots. Then, too, Chinese only joined their own family associations, one in which you automatically belong. It's just like if you were a Smith, you belonged to the Smith family clan; if you were a Taylor or a Teiser, that became your family association.

[. . .]

Many of the Chinese, when they couldn't find work, had to live somehow, so the family association that took in assessments from working members was able with this money to either build a little shack or a building to provide lodging and food for those unemployed. That was the beginning of the family associations in America.

Q: Was the money they took in dues from the members?

A: Yes, for those who were working; anyone who could afford to pay, paid. You might say this was the system used prior to the Social Security program begun in the 1930s. Prior to that time the Chinese always took care of their own. That's why you never found any Chinese beggars in America, except in one or two cases where you found a contrary person who didn't want to associate with anybody and went out and did what he could to earn a living or to keep himself fed.

Source | Ruth Teiser/Thomas W. Chinn, "A Historian's Reflections on Chinese-American Life in San Francisco, 1919-1991: Oral History transcript/Thomas Chinn" Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1993, from Calisphere,
Interviewer | Ruth Teiser
Interviewee | Thomas W. Chinn
Rights | Used by permission of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | “Chinese Family Associations Assist New Immigrants,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 10, 2021,

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