7/13/12

Mr. Yee's English Kitchen Restaurant, Jerome, AZ

People from all over the world came to work in the mines of Jerome, Arizona, during its heyday. According to Herbert V. Young, in They Came to Jerome, by the 1920's the following nationalities were represented in a workforce of 2,200: American, Austrian, Bulgarian, Canadian, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Mexican, Portuguese, Russian, Scottish, Scandinavian, Serbian, Slavic, Spanish, Swedish, and Welsh. There was also a miscellaneous classification. 

Falling into this later classification were the Chinese. The Chinese, here from the beginning of the mines, were viewed with mixed reactions by the rest of the predominately occidental townsfolk. The asians did not fall into the usual categories. For instance, few if any ever worked in the mines. They were all self-employed. In the majority of cases, they established restaurants and laundries.

There were other practices that set them apart from the rest of their fellow citizens - some that caused much concern in certain segments of the community. Bill Adams, editor of the Jerome Mining News, took on a personal campaign to have the Chinese run out of town in 1909. Mr. Young says that "Front page attacks were the rule. One man, it was reported, found maggots in his soup while eating at Hong's restaurant. Another report was that cockroaches and bedbugs had been found in the food. The Chinese, shouted Adams, should be barred from Jerome . . ."

Perhaps it was not so much a health issue that bothered Adams and others, but what they might have considered to be a moral one. It was well known that certain members of the Chinese community had imported the vice of opium smoking to the town. Opium dens, much like those of Hong Kong and old Peking, were set up in the basements and backrooms of various Chinese-owned establishments, complete with bunks, pipes, burners, and sticky balls of the poppy extract. These dens were frequently raided by the local police, but like the speakeasys in the twenties, they would reappear a few days later, a few doors down. The majority of Chinese people were, of course, law abiding citizens who worked hard to establish a place for themselves out on the American frontier.

The last of these first generation Chinese to remain in Jerome was a Mr. Yee, who operated, paradoxically enough, the English Kitchen Restaurant. Mr. Yee acted as sole waiter, chef, and dishwasher of the eatery.

Eating at the English Kitchen was always somewhat of an adventure, because not only did Mr. Yee not speak English very well, but the menu might be different from day to day. Somedays, a customer might not be sure what he was getting until the food arrived at the table. Mr. Yee's specialities were his made-from-scratch fruit pies, the ingredients for which he harvested from the fruit trees around town that the Italians had planted. They included some of the tastiest apricot, peach, and apple pies to be found west of the Mississippi.

Mr. Yee was a good example of what hs been called Chinese inscrutibility. Although he lived in Jerome for over fifty years, he apparently never learned to speak English very well. He was almost unintelligible. During the sixties, however, he was observed talking to the proprietress of Jerome's last grocery store - in fluent Spanish.


Many thought that Mr. Yee knew much more than he wanted to let on. A local who lived here during that time tells of an encounter with Mr. Yee one spring morning in the restaurant.

"I had developed a habit of going down to the English Kitchen for a cup of oolong tea after my breakfast. As I entered this day, Mr. Yee was sitting under a cloud of blue smoke at a booth in the back, reading a Chinese newspaper of unknown vintage. I took a stool at the counter and waited for him to respond to my presence. Eventually he rose and came over. He was wearing his usual outfit: long skirt-like white pants, black slippers, a calf length stained white apron, and a white coolie/chef's hat. I told him that I would like some hot tea. He stood there for a second, looking quizzically at me with his old yellowed eyes. In back of him was a wall of dark brown hardwood shelves filled with boxes of oolong, jasmine, and Earl Grey tea. Looking at me as if dumbfounded, cocking his head to the side he asked, "Ot tee . . . ot tee?" He paused and finally, with a startled realization, he said "OOOOOOO . . . ot tea!" Then he smilied and laughed - for a long time - like it was the funniest thing in the world."

When Mr. Yee died in 1973, the townsfolk drove his hearse down Main Street and tolled the Jerome Bell hanging in front of the Mine Museum in an unusual gesture of love and respect.

3 comments:

  1. When somebody practise his job with profetionalizm and he is lover his job,these persons will be campus persons because they make everything with quality.Mr.Yee was this person.😇

    ReplyDelete
  2. Somebody so sheet write índice my comment and want make me a pateta with bugs.I wrote "these persons will be famuos persons", sorry!😬

    ReplyDelete
  3. Somebody so sheet write índice my comment and want make me a pateta with bugs.I wrote "these persons will be famuos persons", sorry!😬

    ReplyDelete

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