“Discovering My Grandfather through Mao”, a short documentary film about my personal journey as I uncover my grandfather’s radical history as a labor organizer and co-founder of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York (CHLA), one of the oldest Chinese-American labor organizations in this country. My grandfather, Sui Woo, a hand laundry worker came together with other workers and recognized the need for an organization that could challenge the racist and anti-Chinese policies in the 1930's.
The documentary will follow my journey as I attempt to piece together the life of my grandfather through recreations of my memories of him, photos, interviews, antidotes, family stories and conversations CHLA members who knew him. Through interviews with Chinese CHLA members, labor organizers, scholars and experts, I uncover the important legacy of this virtually unknown organization. CHLA’s support of the anti-Japanese WWII effort in China elevated them to a national level as they raised thousands of dollars to buy medical supplies and two ambulances that were sent to China to support the war efforts. When China prevailed and the CHLA threw their support to the Communist Party, the FBI interrogation waged a systematic strategy to wipe out the CHLA. My grandfather continued to be an active member during this period of McCarthyism. The film will expose FBI files that demonstrate the systematic intimidation tactics they used to destroy the organization. As a result, membership declined sharply during this time and never regained those numbers from the earlier days. As power washing machines became more ubiquitous, hand laundries became obsolete. Today, Chinese Americans and immigrants can learn from this rich history of workers resisting institutional racism and recognizing the importance of community organizing as a powerful tool.