New Orleans’ once bustling Chinatown was one of the largest in the country, behind San Francisco and New York City. Due to numerous obstacles, ranging from stringent immigration policies to excessive demolition, Chinatown eventually faded from both modern maps and, for most residents, our collective memory. Tangible vestiges of this once active community are slim, yet its lore continues in New Orleans’ dynamic history.
Reconstruction in Louisiana presented a problematic situation for wealthy plantation owners. Freedpeople rightfully exercised their newly acquired rights to demand higher wages and better treatment. This challenge led to an experiment in 1867: the recruitment of Chinese laborers from the Caribbean, where inexpensive Chinese labor was prevalent, to southeast Louisiana to compensate for the free labor planters enjoyed prior to the Civil War. In 1870, over 1,600 Chinese workers were recruited from areas ranging from California to mainland China.
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