Honoring our Cultural History: Ching Lee Laundry
San Mateo is a gem for many reasons including our Chinese history. Our City was home to the oldest Chinese laundry business in the Country.
Ching Lee Laundry, opened in 1876 and was run for 140 years through four generations as a family business before it closed in 2016. In the early years, when San Mateo's population was less than 1,000, the laundry served as a business and also Chinatown community hub. Just six years after opening, anti-Chinese policies reached their height with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only federal law in history to restrict immigration based on ethnicity, the policy remained in effect until 1943. The family recounted the hardship of racism and discrimination Jacque Yee said, “Over the years, we’ve had so many windows broken by people throwing bricks, and people yelling, ‘C*****, go home!’” There were tough times, but also many beautiful memories and the friendships that formed with loyal customers from all sides of the tracks.
The Yee Family joined the San Mateo Parks Foundation, Self Help for the Elderly, Organization of Chinese in America, community member Ling Woo Liu, City staff, and civic leaders including San Mateo-Foster City School District Trustee Ken Chin, Former Councilmember Fred Hansson, and myself to commemorate the business with a historical marker on First Avenue across the street from the building.
Yesterday, we gathered to celebrate with tear and laughter and it felt like a family reunion! This is truly a victory, living up to the laundry's namesake. I'm excited to support plans for an Urban Trail throughout the City connecting this first historical marker to many future places that represent significance in our history. Change is inevitable and it's up to us to honor our history and reaffirm our values of diversity and inclusivity.