Sweet and sour: ethnic networks and inequality in a Chinese restaurant
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This study examines the experiences of Asian immigrants working in Asian restaurants to understand how ethnicity and race shapes their social interactions and social inequality inside their places of work. Using interviews with Asian immigrants working in Asian restaurants and three months of participant observation in a Chinese restaurant, I consider how immigrants working in an immigrant-owned business understand socioeconomic attainment, how social capital functions in ethnic networks, and how race, ethnicity, and gender shape workers’ experiences in family owned restaurants. I argue that the success of Asian immigrant businesses is not a result of Asian culture; rather, Asian restaurant owners may exploit both co-ethnic and other racial-ethnic workers to benefit their own socioeconomic mobility. Ethnic network members provide support to each other in a project of “ethnic uplift” to gain socioeconomic mobility while differentiating their group from those deemed lower on the ethnic-racial hierarchy. Within ethnic networks, co-ethnic exploitation occurs when individuals attempt to move up the socio-economic ladder in a solitary project of racial and socioeconomic uplift.