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A quilt that was created for the museum exhibition, depicting garment work tasks

Debbie Lee1989/1989

Museum of Chinese in America

Museum of Chinese in America
New York, United States

The legacy of New York City's prominent garment industry can be traced back to the mid-19th century, when German and Eastern European immigrants brought manufacturing experience and skilled laborers to Manhattan. The industry eventually established itself in Chinatown, where it reached its peak in the 1980s. During this time, Chinese immigrant women fueled the industry, with an estimated 500 factories employing 20,000 workers. In 1982, these workers, spearheaded by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, organized the largest strike in the history of New York City’s Chinatown. Responding to long hours, low pay and hazardous working conditions, they protested contractors’ attempts to skirt union regulations and a recently drawn contract which would have guaranteed better working conditions for Chinatown garment workers. After a few days, all but a few dozen contractors signed this contract, pledging to meet worker demands. This quilt was designed by Debbie Lee and sewn by garment workers Ng Mui Leung, Sheung Ngor Leung, Cecilia Lo, Yan Chai Mak, So Fong Lee Ng, Sun Ng, and Heng Yu. It was created for MOCA's 1989 exhibition about the garment industry “Both Sides of the Cloth: Chinese American Women in the New York City Garment Industry.” Skilled trades like sewing have often been depicted as simply “women’s work.” The impact of the 1982 strike, and artwork such as this quilt, underscore the true power of women in the Chinese American community and the vital role of garment production within Chinatown's economy.

Details

  • Title: A quilt that was created for the museum exhibition, depicting garment work tasks
  • Creator: Debbie Lee
  • Date Created: 1989/1989

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