SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The city of San Jose was once one of the largest Chinatowns in California. In the heart of the city, it was the center of life for Chinese immigrants, who worked in the nearby fields and gardens.
More than a century after arsonists burned it to the ground in 1887, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously condemned Chinese immigrants and their descendants for the role played in “systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia and discrimination”. Approved the motion to apologise. “
San Jose, with a population of more than 1 million, is the largest city in the country to formally apologize to the Chinese community for the treatment meted out to their ancestors. In May, the city of Antioch apologized for the mistreatment of Chinese migrants who built tunnels to get home from work because they were banned from walking the streets after sunset.
San Jose Mayor Sam Licardo said, “It is important for members of the Chinese American community to know that they are viewed and that difficult conversations around race and historical disparities include the oppression of their ancestors.”
The apology comes amid a wave of attacks against the Asian community since the pandemic began last year. Other cities, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, have issued apologies decades ago. California also apologized to Chinese workers in 2009, and Congress apologized for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was ratified in 1882 and made the target of the country’s first law limiting immigration to Chinese residents based on race or nationality. had gone.
The city had five Chinatowns but the largest was built in 1872. Fifteen years later, the city council declared it a public nuisance and unanimously approved an order to remove it to make way for a new city hall. According to the resolution, arsonists burned down thriving Chinatown, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and displacing some 1,400 people, before authorities could act.
“Apologies for grave injustices may not erase the past, but acknowledging the historical wrongs done can help us solve the critical problems of racial discrimination facing America today,” the resolution reads.
The Chinese began to come to California in large numbers during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. They worked in mines, built transcontinental railroads, labored in the fields, and helped develop the abalone and shrimp industries. By 1870, there were approximately 63,000 Chinese in the United States, 77% of them living in California, according to the resolution.
Chinese immigrants faced racism and were driven out of the towns. They were denied the right to own property, marry white people, and attend public schools. They were also subjected to violence and intimidation, and courts denied them equal protection.
In San Jose, an Episcopal church where Chinese immigrants attended Sunday school was burned to the ground, Chinese laundry was condemned for being housed in wooden buildings, and in 1886 the Anti-Chinese League was the first. State Conference was held. oath.
Connie Young Yoo, a historian and author of “Chinatown, San Jose, USA,” said that her grandfather was a teenage refugee from the fires of 1887. Her father was born in the last existing Chinatown to be built in San Jose. Despite the threats to his life, the community was established in a new location with the help of German immigrant John Heinlein. But that Chinatown, known as Heinleinville, disappeared after the Chinese population dwindled.
Yu said the official apology gives him an “overwhelming sense of reconciliation and a sense of calm”.
“It’s beyond an apology. It’s taking responsibility, which is a beautiful thing for me,” Yu said.
Gerry Wong, who helped found the Chinese historical and cultural project in San Jose, said he, Yu and other community members would formally accept the apology on Wednesday at a ceremony near the former Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose, which was built Chinatown once existed. In 1987, city officials dedicated a plaque to the site to mark the 100th anniversary of the fire.
Retired teacher Wong said apologizing to the country’s 10th largest city is a teaching moment because it was not in history textbooks or taught in schools.
“As a fourth-generation Chinese American, I didn’t know anything about it and the Chinese people never talked about it,” she said.
“This is a major step forward in the climate of anti-Asian hatred we see today because it will bring attention to not only our difficulties, but what the Chinese communities have contributed to this country,” he said.