Tuesday, February 12

Happy Chinese New Year!

Yee's Food Land in Lake Village, Arkansas. Photo by Kevin Kim

"I can't tell you how many times I've been in New York and Chinatown and San Francisco, and everywhere I go they would tell my sister, "Bring your brother back in here.  We love the Arkansas accent that he has on a Chinese accent."  So I get a big kick out of that."--Joe Dan Yee

Hanging above the checkout lanes of Yee's Food Land, you can find an aging photograph of three generations of the Yee family.There is the father and mother who started the store back in the early fifties and the children who run it today. For over sixty years, the Yees have owned and operated a grocery store in the Arkansas Delta town of Lake Village. The town may have changed around them, but the Yees still pride themselves on the same hometown service that has kept them in business for so many years.

What has also remained unchanged is the family's commitment to preserving their Chinese heritage. Both Joe Dan and his siblings can speak Cantonese, something his parents insisted they learn growing up. And twice a day you can find them all eating a hot, multi-course Chinese meal (all prepared by his sister, Xing) in the back of the their store. Joe says his mother, who is 96, wouldn't have it any other way.

While China and the American South each have histories steeped in custom, the century-old link of immigration between our two countries has given birth to newer and shared traditions. Our oral history collection of Chinese grocers in the Arkansas and Mississippi deltas tells an important history of immigration. They also speak to the formation of a unique food culture in these areas.