Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Oral Presentation Session
Restaurant architecture, with its malleable physicality, connotes different cultural meanings, demonstrating the plasticity of race. This paper explores the racial representations of Chineseness by closely examining the built environment of three Chinese restaurants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that were owned by the Toy family. It argues that the Toys’ representations of Chineseness can be seen through the built environment, constantly changing in different time periods. The built environment of Chinese restaurants shaped and was shaped by the social issues of race as well as broader economic, social and cultural contexts.
The results reveal: 1) Despite the anti-Chinese sentiment in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, Charlie Toy challenged the derogatory Chinese stereotype, and provided the western clients with classy imaginations on China through luxurious built environment of the Toy Building. He enhanced the visibility and cultural distinctiveness of the building, featuring great efforts in representing Chineseness. 2) The second restaurant above Walgreen—Toy’s Chinatown Restaurant—went the opposite direction, showing more efforts in embracing the American mainstream culture and a reduction of Chineseness. The dining setting was quite a standardized American dining place. 3) Quite different from that, Toy’s Chinatown Restaurant on North Old World Third Street featured a revival of Chineseness, staging and celebrating the Chinese culture. This paper highlights the significance of the built environment in studying immigrant histories and how that can be done through tracing one immigrant family’s restaurant businesses over time.