Irish Women and Chinese Men: Meant for Each Other

by Molly Matthews in


19th Century Irish Women and Chinese Men: Meant for Each Other

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My heart was pounding the day I attended a lecture at a Yale college reunion (my husband is the grad.)  Professor Mary Ting Yi Lie was speaking about her book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City, which takes place about the same time as Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine.

I had followed my muse, not studied history. In the book, my characters, Irish woman and Chinese man, fall in love. They connect after Irish and Chinese laborers built the transcontinental railroad. Although they come from opposite sides of the world, the two grow together over shared experiences fleeing oppression, facing discrimination, and longing for a better life, 

I entered the hall wondering if the Yale expert would declare the love match impossible.

Turns out, in this case at least, my characters channeled the truth. I learned from Dr. Liu and subsequent research that Irish “Bridget’s” came to America as domestics in the east and Chinese men came to build the railroad out west – thus the gender imbalance in both communities led to relationships and some marriages too.  

Isn’t it great when the Universe sends us gifts from our subconscious imagination?

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The Molly Maguires: White or Black Hats?

by Molly Matthews in


Child laborers known as “breaker boys” — one of many injustices of 19th Century coal mining.

Child laborers known as “breaker boys” — one of many injustices of 19th Century coal mining.

The Molly Maguires were Irish activists, some would say vigilantes, that started in Ireland and then transplanted to America with Irish immigrants. The Mollies spawned fierce conflicts in anthracite coal mining communities  pitting coal miners against mine bosses and owners.  Several members of this secret society were executed by hanging in 1877-78 after (possibly false) murder convictions.

Writing Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine, I struggled about how to depict the Molly Maguires. My own grandfather worked as a “breaker boy” in the 1880’s just after the family came to Pennsylvania. He is depicted in the book watching miners eat sandwiches covered in coal dust, too tired and hungry to wash. The coal dust coated the men’s stomachs and their lungs. 

There is a long history of gangs and crime families that gestate in immigrant communities and often no easy way for vulnerable communities to assimilate. If my great grandparents had not become financially solvent, at least enough to send their boys to school, he may have been forced to join the Molly McGuires. (Family lore has it that a distant uncle ran away rather than accept a murder for hire assignment.)

Were the Mollies downtrodden coal miners, overworked, underpaid and in debt to the “company store.” Did they have little choice but fight against despotic owners and corrupt politicians? Or were they men who perpetrated violence, murder, and committed terrorist acts? What do you think?

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Favorite Recipe: Peking Duck

by Molly Matthews in


Picture from Agricole Hospitality

Picture from Agricole Hospitality

Several of the events in Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine feature ethnic Chinese and Irish dishes. These characters came to America to escape starvation, and scenes in the book show the ritual of sharing meals from home as they take comfort in memories and one another. 

In one scene, aromatic Peking Duck is on display in the windows of Philadelphia’s Chinatown. The dish is associated with imperial menus and although named after Beijing, ‘Peking’ is an older spelling, it originated in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing, which lies in the eastern province of Jiangsu. Peking Duck became  a feature dish in American Chinese restaurants in the early 20th Century but I imagined that some Chinese, especially those with aspirations of nobility, might have started to sell Peking Duck ahead of the trend.

Ingredients

1 whole duck, head on

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup salt

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

1 cup molasses

2 cups oil, hot

Directions

Fill large pot 3/4 full with boiling water. Preheat rotisserie or oven to 375 degrees. Soak the whole duck in the large pot of boiling water. Remove it as soon as the skin changes color.

Sprinkle the inside of the duck with sugar, salt, and five-spice powder. Rub the skin of the duck with molasses. Truss the duck with string and hang in an airing place for 2 hours or put the duck in the refrigerator overnight without any cover. This will dry the skin of the duck so that it will be crispy.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the skin is reddish brown.

Before serving, pour hot oil over the skin to increase the crispiness. Carve the skin and meat from the duck, serve.

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Favorite Dish: Colcannon

by Molly Matthews in


 

Favorite Irish Dish: Colcannon

Image from Simply Recipes

Image from Simply Recipes

Do you remember a particular meal or dish the brings back the feeling of family, community, and love? For me, it’s the smell of onions and celery that my mother would sauté early Thanksgiving morning. After she stuffed the bird, the aroma of roasting turkey floated around the house all day. 

For Johnny, the little boy in Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine, his favorite Thanksgiving dish is colcannon, maybe because he could play with his food, building melted butter puddles in his mashed potatoes.

Ingredients

2 pounds red potatoes, cut into large chunks 

3/4 cup milk 

3/4 teaspoon salt 

6 tablespoons Kerrygold salted butter, plus additional melted butter if desired 

1 cup chopped onion 

6 cups finely shredded green cabbage (or one 10-ounce package) 

1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded Kerrygold Dubliner® Cheese or Blarney Castle Cheese 

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Cook potatoes in boiling water about 20 minutes or until very tender; drain well and mash with skins on, adding milk and salt. While potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a large skillet. Add onion; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Add cabbage; cook and stir for 5 minutes more or until very soft. Stir cabbage mixture and cheese into hot potatoes and season with pepper.

Mound onto serving plates and make a well in the center of each. Pour a little melted butter into each well, if desired. 

My novel is a career re-invention and if you want to get inspired to create work you love, subscribe to my Instagram and Twitter and get a “Work You Love” daily quote. 


150th Anniversary of Building the Transcontinental Railroad

by Molly Matthews


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On May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point Utah, Leland Stanford joined the rails of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroad with a 17.6 karat gold spike. The new Transcontinental Railroad connected the United States for the first time: growing the west, changing commerce, and ultimately how Americans lived. This anniversary cover of Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine honors the work of thousands of Chinese and Irish who connected America by rail.

For the first time, Irish and Chinese immigrants, although segregated in separate work camps, labored alongside one another. When researching the book, it was no surprise to learn that the relationship between the communities was fraught. The Chinese laid track at a much faster rate than their Irish counterparts which did not endear them to the Irish. A strong work ethic and sense of community helped the Chinese succeed…and stay alive. They drank rice wine and whiskey but did not engender a reputation as drunks. They were strict about cleanliness and boiled their food (preventing communicable and intestinal illness.)

As I gathered information about Irish and Chinese characters who bridged the racial and cultural tensions to form trusting friendships, I found myself wishing we knew more about the daily lives and how these groups interacted. More primary research maybe be coming from Stanford University’s The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project that “seeks to give a voice to the Chinese migrants whose labor on the Transcontinental Railroad that helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West.”  Learn more here.

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About Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine 

by Molly Matthews


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Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine is the story of immigrant survival inspired by the life of my great grandmother, who came to the USA in 1881. The book tells the fictional story of love between an Irish single mother and a Chinese medical practioner. The novel is set against the backdrop of the 19th Century Catholic church and historical events such as the building the transcontinental railroad, child labor, and the vigilante group the Molly Mcguires. It is a narrative of family and hope despite injustice, tragedy, and forbidden love. 

The main characters are from opposite sides of the world but have much in common: fleeing oppression, escaping starvation, confronting prejudice, and surviving violence. Together, they persist, discovering entrepreneurship as the gateway for immigrant survival. In the late 1990’s, Irish “Bridget’s” sailed to America to clean house in the east and Chinese men came to build the railroad out west – a gender imbalance in both communities led to relationships and some marriages too.  They meet due to of a friendship between Chinese and Irish men that began on the railroad.

Another couple in the book are priests, torn between their vows of celibacy and their attraction to one another. The story also features  Chinese acupuncturists and bone setters, several children, Irish dancers, a Philadelphia crime boss, and an inspiring Mother Superior.

Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine is dedicated to the millions who have endured tempest tossed lives for their children could breathe free.

My novel is a career re-invention and if you want to get inspired to create work you love, subscribe to my Instagram and Twitter and get a “Work You Love” daily quote.