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Interpreting the Evidence

Flyer for mass rally in Chinatown, New York City, to “Defend the Garment Industry,” in English, Spanish, and Chinese, 1998.

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Contemporary United States (1965 - present)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Mass Rally of Garment Workers, New York City, 1998 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Flyer for mass rally in Chinatown, New York City, to “Defend the Garment Industry,” in English, Spanish, and Chinese, 1998.
Historical Context
By the 1960s, the older base of Italian and Jewish women garment workers had mostly retired, while a great deal of manufacturing moved first to the South and then out of the United States. Chinese and Latin American workers arrived in large numbers due to the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, which removed quotas and increased immigration from Asia and Latin America.    

During the 1990s, most factories, except a few still located in Midtown Manhattan’s fashion district, were concentrated in neighborhoods of newly arrived immigrants.  Garment business-related firms provided financial aid to Chinese contractors to help them start up factories.  The number of Chinese-owned garment factories in Chinatown increased from eight in 1960 to 500 in 1984.  Between 1969 and 1982, the number of Chinese women working as garment workers in Chinatown increased from 8,000 to 20,000.     

Also during the 1990s, the textile and apparel manufacturing industries employed fewer than a million workers nationwide. Some 70% of the production workers (those involved in cutting, stitching, and packaging) were women.  Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), offshore subcontracting of garment manufacturing has been shifting from Asia to Mexico and the Caribbean.

Although from 1882 to 1943 the United States government severely curtailed immigration from China, changes in the law since 1965 explain why more than 20% of foreign-born New Yorkers are Chinese. Today, Chinatown's inhabitants are from Guangdong, Toisan, and Fujian Provinces, as well as from Hong Kong. The Cantonese community today is well established. The Fujianese, from the southern coast of mainland China, are the newest immigrants.
Essential Question
How does immigration impact the economy and culture of local communities?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main purpose of this poster and explain why this message is targeted toward certain ethnic groups.
Historical Challenges
Research one of the following topics (choose 1 or 2):
  1. Economics
    1. What is offshore contracting?
    2. How have trade agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO affected the American garment industry?
    3. How did the ILGWU (UNITE) try to organize new immigrant workers?
  2. History
    1. Why was Chinese immigration to the U.S. restricted in the 1880s?
    2. What are the origins of New York City’s Chinatown?
    3. How has Chinese immigration (since 1965) transformed New York City?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Create pie charts from the information in the Historical Background.
English Language Arts: Write a fictional biography of a garment worker of the 1880s or 1990s in New York City.