Monday, June 8, 2020

New Sampan Article: Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. I've previously written three articles for Sampan, including, In Search of the First Chinese Restaurant in ChinatownMalden’s First Chinese Restaurant, and Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants. My newest article, the first of two parts, is now available, Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur.

Around 1929, an enterprising and pioneering Chinese woman, Ruby Foo, seized an opportunity, thwarted norms, and opened a Chinese restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown. Her story is fascinating though unfortunately her life was far too short. Despite dying too early, Ruby made a significant impact, and her legacy is and should still be cherished.

At the time she opened her restaurant, there were about 3000 Chinese men in Chinatown and only 150 Chinese women. And nearly all of those women were home makers so it was revolutionary for Ruby Foo to open her own restaurant in such a male-dominated area. Ruby Foo's Den became immensely popular, especially with celebrities from all over the country. The restaurant also was likely one of the first Chinese spots to offer "take-out" food.

Ruby's tale is fascinating and her endeavors helped to define and shape Boston's Chinatown. I'm currently working on Part 2 of Ruby Foo's story, which should be published in the next issue Sampan, sometime later this month.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

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