Santa Ana To Formally Apologize For Burning Down Its Chinatown In 1906, Past Anti-Chinese Racism

Within days, a small white tent stood alone near the washed out ashes of Santa Ana’s Chinatown in 1906 with a cautionary sign: “leprosy: keep out.”

An ailing Wong Woh Ye lay inside the tent in quarantine.

The day before the fire, his documented case of the disease, which was later disputed, prompted an emergency meeting of the Santa Ana City Council on the morning of May 25, 1906. Acting on a resolution drafted by the city’s Board of Health, council members unanimously moved to condemn Chinatown’s remaining buildings and directed the fire marshal to burn it all to the ground.

As word spread, more than 1,000 residents gathered in downtown later that night to watch the fiery finale of a years-long campaign against Santa Ana’s Chinese residents in the wake of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Los Angeles Times deemed the blaze “as picturesque an event as could be imagined.”

But now, more than a century later, it’s seen as a shameful chapter in the city’s history — one that Santa Ana’s current council is moving to officially apologize for.

“We just want to do what’s right and recognize past wrongs,” said Thai Viet Phan, Santa Ana’s first ever Vietnamese American councilwoman. “I felt it was really important to me as someone who is trying to do my best to revitalize our Asian American heritage in the city.”

In a joint effort, Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Planning Commissioner Alan Woo, Assistant City Manager Steven Mendoza and Councilwoman Phan worked on the draft apology.

It offers a formal atonement to “all Chinese immigrants and their descendants who came to Santa Ana and were the victims of systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia and discrimination.”

The resolution is also unequivocal in naming the past city officials responsible as well as deeming the burning of Chinatown as an act of “fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty and brutality.”

It served as the culmination of an effort to rid the area of Chinese residents that intensified when the city bought a lot in 1904 that abutted the enclave as the site of a new city hall.

By 1910, only one Chinese resident remained in Santa Ana according to census records; about 200 Chinese residents had once called Chinatown home during its peak in the 1890s.

Fred Lau, the late proprietor of Santa Ana Food Market, was one of the first Chinese Americans to return to Santa Ana during the 1940s. He opened his grocery store in 1949.

“The Lau family gave a lot of us our first jobs in Santa Ana when we were teenagers,” Hernandez said. “They had close relationships with my family.”

Santa Ana Food Market, which is still in business today, is where the councilman recalled first learning of the burning down of Chinatown from its owners.

With that history in mind, Hernandez began working with Woo, his Planning Commission appointee, on ways to redress the injustice when Phan had received an email earlier this year from a resident about recent Chinatown arson apologies elsewhere, including San Jose.

Woo felt a Santa Ana apology as timely as ever.

“There’s a wave of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate that has been fueled over the last two years,” he said. “It was important to ask for this, not just for me, but on behalf of the Chinese community because often we’re not viewed as citizens. We are treated as foreigners rather than citizens.”

An annual report by the Orange County Human Relations Commission charted a dramatic 1,800% increase in anti-Asian American hate incidents in 2020, which was the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the apology, there have also been efforts to commemorate the history with an on-site memorial.

During an October 2020 Downtown Inc. board meeting, a consultant briefly mentioned how an architect and urban planner were working with local historian Dylan Almendral and Chinese American groups on such a project.

“It was certainly a step in the right direction,” Hernandez said.

Taking the lead, supportive council members want to allocate funding from the city’s budget for a future memorial.

But the apology is slated to come first.

During the Santa Ana City Council meeting on May 3, council members directed staff to prepare the resolution to come back before a vote — and soon.

Phan insisted that the vote happen in May, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; earlier in the meeting, both she and Hernandez presented a proclamation to the Lau family in recognition of the month.

The councilwoman also suggested that, if passed, there be a ceremonial signing of the resolution at the parking lot on Third and Bush Street, the site where Chinatown once stood.

Councilman David Peñaloza offered support for the apology and a ceremonial signing.

“It’s a sad, sad chapter in this city’s history,” he said. “We need to recognize the mistake that was made by previous leadership here.”

The burning down of Chinatown wasn’t the last time disease provided cover for discrimination in Santa Ana.

Dr. John I. Clark, the city’s health officer, had inspected the enclave and later cautioned residents from buying produce there out of concerns for leprosy; he would also advise the Santa Ana Board of Education to segregate white and Mexican students during the 1918 pandemic.

Less than two weeks after the Chinatown blaze, Ye was found dead inside his quarantine tent.

Before that, Councilman John Cubbon resigned from his post on May 28, 1906. The Times reported that he voted to authorize the burning down of Chinatown only after “considerable wrangling” and though there wasn’t an official explanation given, “reliable sources” placed that decision as the reason for his sudden resignation.

For Woo, the current council’s discussion this week marked a significant step toward making amends long overdue.

“The people’s democracy was used against Chinese Americans,” he said. “That deserves an apology. The lives of over 200 Chinese immigrants were affected by that decision.”

Source: LA Times

The Real Story Of The Green Book – The Guidebook That Helped Black Americans Travel During Segregation

Until the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, the Green Book was critical for black Americans wanting to travel across the country.

Road tripping in the 20th century became an iconic American obsession, and the rising middle class was eager to travel the country on the new interstate highway system. The Green Book was a unique travel guide during this time, when segregation was practiced all over the country.

The book, which grew to cover locations in all 50 states, listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, beauty salons, and other services that would reliably serve African Americans. The listings grew from user correspondence and a network of African American postal workers under the guidance of Victor Hugo Green, the book’s publisher.

The American road trip would go on to be an anchor in the civil rights discussion, as it highlighted the injustices and prejudice that African Americans suffered under Jim Crow. Before the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations, Victor Green’s booklet helped black Americans navigate their country.

‘Forgotten By Society’ – How Chinese Migrants Built The Transcontinental Railroad

When one thinks of the transcontinental railroad, rarely do Chinese migrants come to mind. But in a new exhibition at the National Museum of American History in Washington, a vital revision is presented.

Until spring 2020, Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad peels back the layers to see who else should be commemorated during the recent 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion – an achievement which has typically been celebrated with photos of old locomotives, successful-looking men in suits and anonymous workers hammering away.

But this exhibition takes a different tack, tracing the forgotten Chinese workers who built the western leg of the railroad across the Sierra Nevada mountains, connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad in 1869.

“Historians have always known and written about the Chinese workers, but it’s forgotten by society,” said Peter Liebhold, who co-curated the exhibit with Sam Vong. “We’ve forgotten the contribution of these workers, and in fact, we forget the contribution of all workers. We tend to focus on the achievement of the few and not the stories of the average everyday person.”

Ittells the story of Chinese workers through old maps, detailing where they worked, their labor materials – from conical hats to miner’s picks – and photos, showing the tents they lived in, their working conditions and their nomadic lifestyle.

“The artifacts on view are meant to help visitors understand how forgotten workers had to endure hazardous, unfair conditions, in addition to backbreaking labor,” said Leibhold. “The 150th anniversary is not just about completing a railroad, but the workers involved.”

From 1863 and 1869, roughly 15,000 Chinese workers helped build the transcontinental railroad. They were paid less than American workers and lived in tents, while white workers were given accommodation in train cars.

Chinese workers made up most of the workforce between roughly 700 miles of train tracks between Sacramento, California, and Promontory, Utah. During the 19th century, more than 2.5 million Chinese citizens left their country and were hired in 1864 after a labor shortage threatened the railroad’s completion.

The work was tiresome, as the railroad was built entirely by manual laborers who used to shovel 20 pounds of rock over 400 times a day. They had to face dangerous work conditions – accidental explosions, snow and rock avalanches, which killed hundreds of workers, not to mention frigid weather.

“All workers on the railroad were ‘other’,” said Liebhold. “On the west, there were Chinese workers, out east were Irish and Mormon workers were in the center. All these groups are outside the classical American mainstream.”

The exhibition features a century-old pair of chopsticks, as well as canisters for tea and soy sauce. The railroad company provided room and board to white workers, but Chinese workers had to find their own meals, which were often brought to them from local merchants.

There are also miner’s picks and shovels, conical hats, as well as photos of the camp sites where the workers lived in Nevada in 1869. There are photos, as well, of the Native Americans, many of whom protested against the building of the railway in 1869, which displaced the Lakota, Shoshone, Cheyenne and other communities.

The Chinese workers were educated and organized; 3,000 laborers went on strike in 1867 to demand equal wages, as the white workers were paid double.

“They were unsuccessful because they were out in the middle of nowhere,” said Liebhold. “The railroad stopped them from getting food. That’s one way it failed.”

One telling photo on view is a shot of the Union Pacific board members sitting in a business class train car from 1869. By paying laborers a low wage, they were able to skim millions from the construction and get rich.

“Building railroads is often profitable but operating them isn’t necessarily, if you look at the history of railroads in the US,” said Liebhold. “To totally condemn the businessmen is challenging because they took huge risks raising money to build a railroad that was astronomically difficult. Many people didn’t think it was possible.”

There is one photo from 1869 that shows how the company commemorated the last hammered spike to complete the railroad, however, only one Chinese worker is in the photo. Many of the actual workers were left out.

This story could still be one which resonates with today’s America. “There’s no question this is a story about migrant labor,” he said. “Chinese workers were not citizens, weren’t allowed to become citizens. From the 1850s to 1882, they were tolerated in the US, but not accepted as peers.

“Then, there was the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred immigrants from coming into US, unless you were a diplomat or a businessperson,” said Liebhold. “You’re always welcome if you’re affluent, then you’re allowed to come in.”

Source: The Guardian

‘I Still Believe In Our City’ – Artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s Public Art Series Takes On Anti-Asian Racism In Brooklyn Subway Station

On Tuesday, New Yorkers commuting through the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway station will find it transformed with vibrant portraits of Black, Asian and Pacific Islander people along with anti-discriminatory messages like “I did not make you sick” and “I am not your scapegoat.”

The series is the work of the neuroscientist turned artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya (pronounced PING-bodee-bak-ee-ah). In August, Ms. Phingbodhipakkiya was named a New York City Public Artist in Residence through a program that has partnered artists with city agencies since 2015. She is one of two artists currently embedded with the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which invested $220,000 in this campaign.

Ms. Phingbodhipakkiya’s “I Still Believe in Our City” series was created as a response to a grim statistic. From February to September, the Commission received more than 566 reports of discrimination, harassment and bias related to Covid-19 — 184 of which were anti-Asian in nature. It’s a troubling spike not just appearing in New York, but in Asian-American communities across the country.

“My goal with this art series was to turn these hurts into something beautiful and powerful,” Ms. Phingbodhipakkiya said in a phone interview. She added, “I really wanted to find a way to say, despite everything we have faced as Asian-Americans and New Yorkers, that I still believe in New York.”

From Nov. 3 to Dec. 2, the series of 45 pieces will be displayed in the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, a central hub that serves a diverse group of commuting New Yorkers. Ms. Phingbodhipakkiya said that it was also the site of a reported, Covid-related bias incident in March, when a 26-year-old Asian-American man reported he was spat on.

A description of that incident has been included in one of the pieces, alongside portraits of Asians and flowers that Ms. Phingbodhipakkiya said have symbolic meanings in Chinese and East Asian cultures. Other panels offer information and historical context about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and statistics about Asian-owned businesses.

Source: NY Times

University of California (UC) system can no longer use ACT & SAT test results as a determinant for admissions, a superior court judge has ruled, handing a victory to students with disabilities

The University of California system can no longer use ACT and SAT tests as a determinant for admissions, a superior court judge has ruled, handing a victory to students with disabilities.

The “test optional” policy at most UC campuses affords privileged, non-disabled students a “second look” in admissions, said Brad Seligman, the Alameda County Superior Court Judge who issued the preliminary injunction in the case of Kawika Smith v. Regents of the University of California on Tuesday.

At the same time, he said, a “second look” would be denied to less privileged students and students with disabilities who are unable to access the tests. Therefore, the conclusion is to do away with the tests all together.

The news comes months after the university system waived the standardized testing requirements until 2024, after its Board of Regents voted unanimously. A news release from May stated that if a new test hadn’t emerged by 2025, the system would eliminate the standardized testing requirement for California students.

Source: USA Today

Why People Gaslight Asian American Struggles

You don’t have to scroll too far to see comments like these on articles about hate crimes or xenophobia. People seem quick to dismiss news reports of Asian Americans being verbally and physically assaulted, or even use the comment section as a stage to continue the attack from the comfort of their keyboard.

This behavior of denial and gaslighting of crimes against Asians is overwhelming and, frankly, perplexing.

Source: NextShark