"The fortune cookie appeared in the United States in the 1920s, but it was not imported from China. Still, many contemporary cookies and their fortunes are made by Chinese Americans. Steven Yang, founder of Yang’s Fortunes Incorporated in San Francisco, prints the paper fortunes for cookie factories around the country. A typical 50-pound box at his factory contains 300,000 printed slips derived from the company’s list of 5,000 unique fortunes. The fortunes are mostly written by Yang’s daughter, Lisa, who gathers sayings from books or quotes, or simply makes phrases up.
"Fortunes, it turns out, are deceptively difficult to write, as they must be upbeat, generally applicable, and, above all, inoffensive. A fortune that reads 'lighten up,' for example, could be taken as a critique of a person’s weight.
"Still, neither fortunes nor cookies are Chinese in origin. The woodblock print above evidences the cookie’s ties to Japan, [where they have] a larger, darker and less-sweet ancestor to the American fortune cookie. Yet if these snacks have such clear Japanese heritage, why do we eat fortunes with Chinese food rather than at sushi restaurants?
"Like the Chinese immigrants before them, many Japanese immigrants to the United States chose to make their living in the food industry. The Japanese also opted to cater to American tastes, and Japanese families frequently owned, operated, and otherwise worked in (American-style) Chinese restaurants, and ultimately introduced Americanized fortune cookies into the mix.
"During World War II, many Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps, forced to leave businesses behind. After a four-year period, the concentration camps, closed, and the cultural source of fortunate cookies was obscured and a pervasive association had spread: fortune cookies were henceforth broadly thought of as Chinese." (99% Invisible):http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/a-sweet-surprise-awaits-you/