Chinese Restaurant Workers Travel Far For Work
Mr. He Shi Chen in Sunset Park. Photo by Richard Yeh / WNYC

Chinese Restaurant Workers Travel Far For Work


Chinese immigrants based in New York City have long taken jobs in restaurants as far away as Pennsylvania, Alabama, and even Florida. Sunset Park resident He Shi Chen is one of them.

Chen works as a cook at a Chinese restaurant somewhere in Pennsylvania, he’s not sure where exactly. His employer provides him with a shared room in an apartment near the restaurant. But Chen’s wife and two small children live in Sunset Park, which means that they’re apart for days, even weeks, at a time. This is the reality for many immigrants in Sunset Park and other Chinatowns in New York City.

In fact, Asian restaurants across the country hire workers who live in Chinatowns in major cities according to Tommy Wu, a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center. He’s writing his dissertation on the industry and finds that the further someone is willing to travel for work, the higher the pay. Many Chinese immigrants in New York City have seen these long-distance jobs as their best option in order to provide for their families, especially as rents rise throughout the city and large Chinese restaurants close. For many, this life is just reality, and the workers take pride in doing whatever it takes to provide for their families. But at what cost?

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