Minnesota Historical Society  
The Chinese-American Experience in Minnesota
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Photo of Leeann Chin in her home kitchen, 1978, Star Tribune photo

LeeAnn Chin, about 1978, Star Tribune photo

Probably the best-known Chinese name in Minnesota belongs to Leeann Chin—after all, it's on a chain of nearly 60 popular restaurants in the Twin Cities area.

"Leeann Chin" may be a brand name, but she is also a real person. Born in Canton, China, in 1933, Leeann and her husband moved to the United States in 1956 and settled in Minnesota. Known as a great cook by her friends, her husband, and her five children, she began catering parties and teaching cooking classes in the 1970s, and in 1980 published the first of her three cookbooks and opened her first restaurant, Leeann Chin's Chinese Cuisine, in Minneapolis.

The most important event in Chinese American history of the last 50 years was the signing, on October 3, 1965, of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In place of quotas based on national origins, the new law substituted a preference system designed to reunify families and admit people who had needed skills. The act greatly increased the number of immigrants from Asia, especially Chinese from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Photo of the Chinese American community arch, Minneapolis, 1970Chinese American community arch, Minneapolis, 1970

For the 1970 Minneapolis Aquatennial, the Chinese American community erected this arch on Nicollet Mall. Bing Wong—for many years one of the city's busiest portrait photographers—documented its construction. After the festivities, the arch was moved to the State Fair, where it stood until the 1990s. Photo courtesy Bing Wong

Photo of the Entrance, Nankin Cafe, 15-17 Seventh Street South, Minneapolis. Photographer: Charles J. Hibbard (-1924) Photograph Collection 10/2/1920 Location no. MH5.9 MP3.1N p78

Nankin Café, Minneapolis, 1920. Photographer: Charles J. Hibbard

The Nankin Café, which opened in its first location in Minneapolis in 1919, was for many years the center of Minnesota Chinese cultural life. In 1948, Nankin owner and chef Walter James—with the help of his friend Stanley Chong—converted part of the Café into clubrooms for the growing Chinese community. James and Chong founded the organization that eventually became the Chinese American Association of Minnesota (CAAM).

There are several major Chinese American organizations active in Minnesota. The newest is the Chinese American Business Association of Minnesota (CABAM), established in 2002. Minnesota is also home to a chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, a non-partisan advocacy organization.


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