A Home in Chinatown

Ava Chin on tracing five generations of Chinese-American history

Ng-Doshim family portrait, 1937 (courtesy Ava Chin)
Ng-Doshim family portrait, 1937 (courtesy Ava Chin)

In the 1860s, Chinese immigrants built vast stretches of railroad in the American West. But two decades later, they found themselves the targets of the first federal law restricting immigration by race and nationality: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which remained on the books until 1943. One of writer Ava Chin’s forefathers worked on the railroad, and much of her family suffered from the consequences of the Exclusion Act. The violence it enabled pushed both sides of her family east, to New York City. Chin, raised by her mother’s relatives in Queens, had grown up without meeting her father or his family—until years of research led her to a building on Mott Street where, she soon learned, both sides of her family spent decades living, squabbling, and loving. Chin’s new book, Mott Street, is the result of painstaking research across continents and oceans, into oral and written records, to trace five generations of Chinese-American history.

Go beyond the episode:


  • The Chin brothers: Lung, Hong, and Jack, 1929 (Courtesy of Ava Chin)


Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

Subscribe: iTunes • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast

Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up