Working with oral historian extraordinaire, Amy Evans Streeter, I set out to collect my first interview documenting the history of Chinese American grocers in the Delta: Tony and Monica Li of Wong's Foodland in Clarksdale, MS.
First introduced to the Mississippi Delta as indentured servants by planters during Reconstruction, these early Chinese sojourners soon became disenchanted with working in the fields and moved off the plantation to set up small grocery stores nearby. Mainly serving as an alternative to plantation commissaries and catering to a predominately African American clientele, the Chinese American grocer was a mainstay in many Delta neighborhoods well into the 20th century. Though their numbers have diminished in recent years, their history is an important part of the foodways of the Delta.
Wong's Foodland has stayed in the family with Tony Li taking over after his uncle Frank Wong sold it to him in the early 1990s. Mr. Li says nothing much has changed to store since his uncle built it in 1959. And, as you can see by the aged wood panels and vintage linoleum, it certainly looks that way.
Kevin is a senior history major at Swarthmore College. He will be presenting his fieldwork documenting Chinese grocers in the Delta as part of this year's symposium, the theme of which is the Global South.
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