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Heather R. Lee

Assistant Professor Faculty Fellow of History, Shanghai, New York University
Chapter Member: New York City SSN
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About Heather

Lee researches transnational flows of people and capital between North America and Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She is especially interested in the interaction between migrants and immigration law enforcement, and how migrants develop sophisticated systems that defy legal regulations. Her work shows the Chinese historically opened restaurants because these businesses allowed them and their relatives to bypass restrictive immigration laws. She is involved with public education at museums and historical societies and has worked with immigrant rights organizations on the DREAMact and the 1882 Project.


No Jargon Podcast

In the News

Guest on Culture Trip, February 17, 2017.
Guest on CUNY TV, December 8, 2016.
Research discussed by Maria Godoy, in "Lo Mein Loophole: How U.S. Immigration Law Fueled a Chinese Restaurant Boom," NPR, February 22, 2016.
Research discussed by Gillian B. White, in "Explaining Chinese Restaurants, Korean Dry Cleaning, and Indian Motels," The Atlantic, October 2, 2015.
Guest on Gastropod: The Bitter Truth, September 22, 2015.
Guest on Gastropod, August 25, 2015.
Opinion: "History of Chinese Restaurants in the United States," Heather R. Lee, Process: A Blog for American History, March 3, 2015.
Research discussed by "Chinese Americans: Exclusions/ Inclusions," Museum Exhibition, New York Historical Society, New York, NY, 2014.
Research discussed by "Deporting Cambodians: How Immigration Policy Shapes our Communities," Museum Exhibition, Wing Luke Asian Museum, Seattle, WA, 2009.
Research discussed by "Food On the Move: Eating in Trains, Ships, Cars, and Planes," Museum Exhibition, Culinary Museum at Johnson and Wales, Providence, RI, 2010.
Research discussed by "Chow Mein, Chicken Wings, and Cheeseburgers: Chinese Restaurants of Providence, RI," Museum Exhibition, Culinary Museum at Johnson and Wales, Providence, RI; Boston Storefront Library, Boston, MA , 2009; 2009.
Research discussed by "Sweet and Sour," Museum Exhibition, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC, 2011.
Research discussed by "Chinese on Fridays: Rhode Island’s Chow Mein Sandwich," Museum Exhibition, John N. Brown Center, Providence, RI, 2008.


"Merchants Under Exclusion: Transnational Capital, Migrant Labor, and Chinese Restaurants in New York City, 1850-1965".
Uncovers the formative role U.S. immigration law had on ethnic businesses like Chinese restaurants, and suggests how the further study of ethnic capitalism should consider the dynamic interaction between exclusionary legal policy and the adaptive strategies of immigrant entrepreneurs.
"Chinese Migrant Portal," (with Lucy Boltz, Hong Deng Gao, Ailing Lin, and et. al.), New York University Shanghai, forthcoming.
A digital humanities project that is an interactive gateway for historical, quantitative data on the Chinese outside of China. Allows visitors to query data by location, date, sex, marital status, and so on forth free of charge.
"A Life Cooking for Others: The Work and Migration Experiences of a Chinese Restaurant Worker in New York City, 1920-1946" (with Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin Manalansan, and Anita Mannur), in Eating Asian America (New York University Press, 2013), 53-77.
Details the experiences of Chinese restaurant workers who suffered personal hardships and professional setbacks because their extended family’s needs were placed above their own.
"What is Human Trafficking?" (with Rhacel Salazar Parrenas and Maria Hwang). Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37, no. 4 (2012): 1015-1059.
Reviews recent works on human trafficking and outlines a new research agenda based on systematic, empirical research and emphasizing on material inequalities that makes certain populations vulnerable trafficking.