San Jose once had one of California’s largest Chinese communities. It was located in the city’s heart and served as a hub for Chinese immigrants living nearby who were employed on farms orchards.
More than a century after arsonists burned it to the ground in 1887, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to apologize to Chinese immigrants and their descendants for the role the city played in “systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia, and discrimination.”
San Jose, with a population over 1 million, is the largest city in the country to formally apologize to the Chinese community for its treatment of their ancestors. The city of Antioch, which was banned from leaving the streets at night, apologized in May for the mistreatment it had given Chinese immigrants. They built tunnels from their jobs to reach home.
” It is important that members of the Chinese American Community know they are being seen. The difficult conversations about race and historical inequities also include the oppression their ancestors endured,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo stated.
The apology comes amid an avalanche of criticisms against Asian communities since last year’s pandemic. In the past, other cities in the Pacific Northwest have also apologized. California, too, apologized in 2009 to Chinese workers and Congress has apologized for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was approved in 1882 and made Chinese residents the targets of the nation’s first law limiting immigration based on race or nationality
The city had five Chinatowns but the largest one was built in 1872. The city council declared the Chinatown a nuisance five years later and approved an order for its removal to create space for a new City Hall. According to the resolution, arsonists set fire to hundreds of Chinese homes and businesses and forced about one ,400 person from the Chinatown.
“An apology can’t erase the past. But admitting to the historical wrongdoings that were committed could help us solve the serious problems of racial disparity facing America today.” The resolution states.
The Chinese started coming to California in large numbers during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. They worked in mines, built the transcontinental railroad, toiled in farms, and helped develop the abalone and shrimp industries. By 1870, there were about 63,000 Chinese in the United States, 77% of them residing in California, according to the resolution.
Chinese immigrant were subject to racism and forced from their homes. These immigrants were not allowed to marry whites, own land, or attend public school. They were also subject to intimidation, violence, and denial of equal protection from the courts.
The San Jose episcopal church, where Chinese immigrant children attended Sunday school, was set on fire. The first Anti-Chinese League state convention was held in 1886,, according to resolution.
Connie Young Yu is a historian who wrote “Chinatown San Jose, USA” and said that her grandfather was a teenager refugee during the 1887 fire. She was the first Chinesetown to be built in San Jose. John Heinlen (a German immigrant) helped to establish the community in a new area despite dangers to John’s life. But that Chinatown, known as Heninlenville, disappeared after the Chinese population dwindled.
Ms. Yu said the official apology gives her an “enormous sense of reconciliation and a sense of peace.”
“This is beyond an apology. “It is taking responsibility. This is beautiful to me,” Yu said.
GerryeWong was a founding member of the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project. She said that she and Ms. Yu will accept their apology in a ceremony near the Fairmont Hotel, downtown San Jose. This hotel is located where once stood Chinatown. In 1987, city officials dedicated a plaque at the site to mark the fire’s 100th anniversary.
Ms. Wong, a retired teacher, said the apology from the 10th largest city in the country is a teaching moment because this history was not in textbooks or taught in schools.
” “As a fourth generation Chinese American, I did not know anything about this incident and Chinese people have never spoken about it,” Wong said.
” It’s an important step in this anti-Asian hate climate that we are seeing today because it will draw attention not only to our hardships, but also to what Chinese communities have added to this country,” she said.
This story was published by The Associated Press.