Why do I so rarely see first-generation Chinese immigrants working in ethnically diverse businesses, while I so often see Latino immigrants working in just about every type of business? One thousand qualifiers and anecdata inside.
To be absolutely clear: I'm painting in very broad strokes. It's possible the premise of this AskMe is basically wrong, or that I'm wrongly focusing on these two subsets of people while ignoring others. If so, weigh in! I'm not certain that any of what I write below is evidence of a larger trend -- it's more a half-formed question based on my own observations and ignorance, and it is not meant to offend anyone (I don't believe that it will, just unambiguously stating my intention). Also let's be clear that I'm assuming a lot: that I know who's Chinese-American or Latin-American at a glance, that most of the people I'm talking about are in fact first-generation immigrants, etc. Let's agree that I could easily be wrong about almost every single thing that I posit below. Finally: I don't mean to imply a value judgement, that any of these are hard-and-fast rules, or that there aren't loads of counterexamples to the contrary.
I live in Brooklyn and I work in Manhattan. It appears to me that, first-generation Chinese immigrants often work in what seem to be businesses owned and operated by Chinese-Americans. This isn't just in Chinatown or Flushing, it's all over the city that I've seen.
I'm thinking first of Chinese restaurants, in many of which the entire staff, from the server to the chef to the busboy, are ethnically Chinese. Sometimes there are Latinos bussing tables, but very often not -- the staff seems to be Chinese down to the last person. This is unlike almost any other kind of restaurant I can think of -- there are a zillion Latinos in the food industry, but rarely in Chinese restaurants. Other examples include electronics shops, hardware stores, repair stores, and on and on. I walked into a small computer store today, staffed by two Chinese guys, which is what got me thinking about this question. (Am I certain that it was owned by Chinese-Americans? No, but I lived in China long enough to make a reasonably educated guess that it is, and I'll bet you'd agree with that assumption if you'd been there). Similarly, at the laundromat down the street from my apartment, I always see the same three Chinese ladies, and nobody else, working there.
By contrast, I see lots of Latino-American immigrants working in diverse environments. (Do I know they're immigrants? Of course not, but if you live in a city where half the residents -- including myself -- are transplants, it's not crazy to figure that there's a good chance that someone with a strong Spanish-inflected accent is originally from Latin America).
For example, there are lots and lots of Latino/as who work at the deli I always go to -- there's also an Egyptian lady at the register, and a couple of white guys behind the counter. There are no Chinese people who work there, though, or at any of the delis I frequent. I go to this greengrocer
about 4 times a week -- I believe that the owner is Korean and the guys restocking the shelves are (always) Latino. I go to Ess-a-bagel
whenever I'm in the area, and the guys (and gal) who work there are all either Jewish or Latino.
I see Latinos working in all kinds of restaurants -- Thai, Italian, American, whatever. When I go to a diner, about 2/3 of the time the guy refilling my water glass and clearing the empty plates from my table is Latino. I cannot think of a single example of a Chinese-American guy bussing tables, or taking orders, or cooking the food -- unless I'm in a Chinese food place. But at the "Greek" diner? Latino guys. Burger joint? Latino guys. Pizza place? Latino guys. But I'm just not seeing the ethnically Chinese cashiers, short-order cooks, and busboys in these kinds of places.
I'll very frequently see Latino guys on a construction crew that also includes white and black guys. When I see Chinese guys doing construction, it's a good bet that everyone on the crew is Chinese-American -- you never see a construction crew of like five Polish-Americans, and three Chinese-Americans (do you? I mean, I don't).
Again: I know that people of Chinese and Latino extraction have all kinds of employment -- I work with a number of them in my white-collar tech job; I've had Latino and Chinese doctors, teachers, whatever (This isn't meant as a "I can't be racist, some of my best friends are ____!" defense, I just mean to say that obviously, all kinds of people do all kinds of work, but for the purposes of this question, I'm talking about firs- or second-generation immigrants who open businesses, and people in the service industry, in New York, and in these two demographic groups). There are lots of parts of the city I've never been to where these trends might be completely untrue, and my observations are about as anecdotal as they come. I understand that. But I'd be curious if anyone has insight, or has evidence for or against the premise of the question, or can explain it in terms of language, or money, or immigration trends, or this city/big cities in general, or cultural tradition… or anything.