Chinese in New Mexico? has often been the initial reaction when I mention what I'm researching. But it shouldn't be surprising, and not just because New Mexico is a multicultural place today. Even if we just look at Hollywood stereotypes of the Western frontier, there's the proverbial Chinese cook. (There was Bonanza's Hop Sing, for example.) Though let's get to the real world...

A browse through local histories shows how the Chinese cook was a staple in a white Californian Victorian household's staff. A turn-of-the-century San Francisco Chinatown merchant, Wong Taw, in 1916 published the volume known as the Fat Ming Cookbook, a guide to Western recipes and cooking techniques printed in side-by-side English and Chinese. (There's an article about it in Gastronomica.) 

What about New Mexico?

The Silver City Museum has shared this preview of a 1913 photo "of a small girl and boy, and two men, ...standing in front of a ranch house constructed of adobe and rock." The handwritten caption below the photo reads "Ranch House and Chinese Cook." Click on over and you can see it. (Pogson Collection; no. 02555). 

Here's another indication, from the Want Ads, someone who wants a "First class cook immediately... Japanese, Chinese, or Filipino preferred...."

This ad happens to be from the El Paso Herald (1917), and we see that although it's a Texas newspaper, the Want Ads include also advertisements for positions in Arizona and New Mexico. 

Check out the ad just above the ad for the first-class cook: Someone in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, wants an "expert gardener," "Japanese or Chinese preferred." The expertise of Japanese and Chinese American horticulturalists was something known then. More on this later.

A casual glance through photo collections at the Palace of the Governors will show us a window into the experience of Chinese in urban areas of New Mexico. Click through the thumbnail below to see the pic:

You clicked through to see the image, yes? Is it not one of the most suave 19th-century New Mexico portraits you've seen? There's so many questions raised by this picture. What was 1880s Las Vegas like? What sort of opportunities were there for a Chinese or Chinese American? Was this guy Lee Chin famous? Is this his suit? His friend's, or maybe part of the formal portrait setup? That's quite a watch fob and ring. He looks so comfortable in the outfit -- which includes one of the most prodigious double-windsors ever seen in neckwear -- that I'm inclined to think it's his. The date is estimated at 1885 -- does he wear a braided queue wound up under that hat? Is this the only portrait of a Chinese American made by the Crispell Art Parlor? Glancing at another commercial portrait, it looks like the photographer for Crispell had some good technique, and Peter Palmquist (in his essay "In Splendid Detail") noted a professional portraiture market among 19th century Chinese Americans who were connoisseurs of good photographic technique. How many images from the Crispell Art Parlor have survived and are accessible in public collections?

And then there's miners. Gold and silver mining booms attached people from all over the country and the world; why not Chinese?

Again, click through the thumbnail below to see the pic at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives of the New Mexico History Museum:

The museum notes this collection "is comprised primarily of studio portraits taken in Socorro during the mining boom." 

From another collection, this time part of the 580 digitized photographs by J. C. Burge, from the Black Range Museum Collection at the Palace of the Governors, again mainly studio portraits, and thought to be of the same time period.  This Chinese man of the "mine area of Hillsboro and Kingston" wears more traditional dress, and appears to be wearing the traditional shaved-forehead and braided queue hairstyle:

(Click through thumbnail to view.)

With an almost iconic look, he looks so familiar. As if I've seen him on the cover of a book, or otherwise featured in a publication. Does anyone recognize this photo?

Even just in a few portrait collections, there's so much testimony already to Chinese heritage of New Mexico. Let's see what else we can find!