San José apologizes to the Sino-American community for “a century of discriminatory actions”
A descendant of a survivor of the 1887 Chinatown arson said it brings “peace”.
The public apology also comes as prejudice over the alleged origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China has led to an increase in incidents of anti-Asian hate in the United States.
San José was once home to five Chinatowns established by immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s, according to a memorandum posted on the city’s website that acknowledges the “virulent and systematic racism, xenophobia” and “violence” endured by these first Asian American communities. One of San José’s best-known Chinatowns that began on Market Street succumbed to arson in 1887 after the then city council declared the site a public nuisance and ordered its removal to make way for the construction of a new town hall.
The fire destroyed homes and businesses and displaced some 1,400 people, including the teenage grandfather of Connie Young Yu, a local historian and author of “Chinatown, San Jose, USA”.
Yu called the apology a “act of grace” in a statement Thursday.
“As the descendant of a Chinese worker driven out of Market St. Chinatown by arson, I feel at peace,” she added. “We are now all part of the same community, acknowledging the past, to move forward together.”
Yu told ABC News last week, ahead of the official apology, that her father was born in San Jose’s New Chinatown.
She added that the apology “comes very late, but it is deeply meaningful to the Sino-American community and symbolically offers peace and reconciliation.”
“The apology recognizes the hardships and struggles of our ancestors by the Chinese Exclusion Act which deprived Chinese naturalization of American citizenship, prompting cities to expel the Chinese through illegal violence or legal methods,” she said. added.
City officials and members of the Asian American community in San José held a ceremony on Wednesday at the Circle of Palms Plaza, on the site of the burnt Chinatown of Market Street, to mark the historic resolution.
Gerrye Kee Wong, co-founder of the local non-profit group Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, is a fourth-generation Chinese American who has lived in San José since the 1930s.
In a statement, he said it was “a gratifying moment to see the city of San José recognize the past wrongs against its Chinese citizens with this resolution to redress the situation now and in the future.”
The city’s resolution also recognizes the lingering impact of centuries of racist politics, stating that “the recent increase in anti-Asian violence and racial discrimination demonstrates that xenophobia remains deeply rooted in our society” and that Americans are of Asian origin “are still considered perpetual strangers”.
He calls for the history of Chinese immigrants “and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them in the 19th and early 20th centuries” not to be purged from the history of the city.
Despite the vast economic contributions of Chinese immigrants, California’s history is marked by a legacy of unequal treatment of them. Officials in neighboring Antioch, Calif., Have apologized for past atrocities suffered by Chinese Americans earlier this year as pandemic-related hate incidents targeting Asian Americans increased . In Antioch, Chinese-American communities built underground tunnels because they were not allowed to walk the streets at night, and the city’s Chinatown was also set ablaze by arsonists in 1867.
San José Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement Thursday that with each new generation “we must reaffirm our commitment to justice and renew our contrition, not only for these failures, but for all acts of disrespect. and violence against our Blacks, Latinos, Aboriginals and members of the AAPI community. “
“This reconciliation recognizes the mistakes of our city’s past,” Liccardo added, “and serves as a reminder to continue fighting for an inclusive society”.