Today there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than the combined total of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC chains. Historically speaking, the Chinese restaurant industry took off while U.S. immigration laws prevented most Chinese citizens from immigrating. How was this possible? This visual narrative unravels this historical paradox.

The story begins at the height of anti-Chinese sentiment. During the 1870s, the US economy had slid into a long depression, causing companies to let go of employees and lower wages. On July 23, 1877, thousands of frustrated individuals gathered in front of San Francisco’s City Hall.

They blamed Chinese immigrants for high rates of unemployment among white Americans. Railroad companies employed large numbers of Chinese to build the transcontinental railroad and its offshoots. Manufacturing companies followed their example. For two nights, thousands of demonstrators rampaged through Chinatown, taking four lives and destroying property worth over a hundred thousand dollars.

A political movement started to take shape. Protestors wanted to prevent more Chinese wage workers from coming to the United States. These voters exercised tremendous political influence, so the Republican and Democratic Parties incorporated Anti-Chinese policy into their national agenda to win their votes.