SAN JOSE ISSUES AN APOLOGY
SAN JOSE ISSUES AN APOLOGY
By Gerrye Wong
The City of San Jose heralded a momentous day for the Chinese community when it was announced that the San Jose City Council had adopted a Resolution of Apology for past unjust actions the city had enacted against the immigrant Chinese communities from 1866 through the turn of the century. Instigated by Councilman Raul Peralez, the resolution text had been drafted through the Office of Racial Equity representative Christopher Cambiese, Immigrant Affairs Manager, and community citizens Connie Young Yu and Gerrye Wong. They all admitted this resolution was long overdue, and commended the adoption action by the Council on September 28 . Connie Young Yu and Gerrye Wong spoke before the City Council asking for their consideration in the adoption, telling of their own family experiences of discrimination and wrong doings by the city laws. The City Council, under leadership of Mayor Sam Liccardo, voted unanimously on the adoption.
A grand celebration happened the following day, arranged by the City to make the public announcement of the adoption of the Resolution of Apology by the City of San Jose. Before an excited crowd of up to 200 citizens, San Jose Mayor Liccardo read each item citing prejudicial practices against the Chinese that had happened in the past. Most notable was the banning and eventual burning of the Second Market Street Chinatown in 1887 which displaced 1400 of its Chinese citizens who had occupied this Chinatown for over a decade. The announcement was made at the actual site of that Chinatown in the Circle of Palms at downtown San Jose.
Plaque on wall of former Fairmont Hotel commemorating 100 year anniversary of the Second Market Street Chinatown fire.
Not a usual practice, Mayor Liccardo read the very long resolution in its entirety which cited many instances where the Chinese of that time were treated unfairly in a non welcoming atmosphere of xenophilia. Many in the audience later said they had been unaware of all of these unkind practices by the City, and was gratified that this information was brought to light, and formally apologized for. Councilman Peralez, acting as Master of Ceremonies, related that he as an immigrant himself, felt a special empathy for the many instances cited in the resolution, and as such, was very happy that day to be able to announce its adoption.
San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez welcomes Gerrye Wong to the ceremony announcing adoption of the Resolution of Apology from San Jose
Two leaders in the Silicon Valley Chinese community, and advisors to the Resolution committee, Connie Young Yu and Gerrye Wong spoke during the program about the special timeliness of this act by the City Council. Connie told of her own family history, her grandfather having been a resident of the burned down Chinatown, and her father born in the last standing Chinatown named Heinlenville which was in existence from about 1888 to 1931. She recalled stories her grandfather and father, John Young, told her of the lives they lived in those two early Chinatowns of San Jose. As a noted historian of Chinese American history, she called this action by the City of San Jose an important step forward in the history of Chinese Americans.
Ceremony speakers proudly display the Resolution of Apology
As a former educator, and resident of San Jose as a child, I spoke on the discrimination my father and others of his generation experienced. Although he had been a very respected businessman managing the second largest department store in San Jose in the late 1930s-1940s, he and his Chinese employees were not allowed to buy their homes to reside in, although most were United States citizens. This, I said, seemed unbelievable considering during World War II, the homeland of Chinese in America , China was actually an ally of America and when younger generations learned of this prejudicial treatment against their ancestors, they found it hard to understand. I told that I became interested in preserving Chinese American history when a group of Chinese citizens were contacted following the discovery of Chinese artifacts from the site of the burned down Chinatown on Market Street in 1986, 100 years after the infamous Chinatown fire. Along with Lillian Gong-Guy, she and I helped form the CHINESE HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL PROJECT, with a goal to build a museum that could show these items as a way of educating visitors on the history of Chinese Americans in Santa Clara Valley.
Gerrye Wong tells of the founding of CHINESE HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL PROJECT and the building of the Museum of Chinese American History which was gifted to the City of San Jose as a token of friendship from the Chinese community in 1991
I announced proudly that in 1991, with funds derived completely from private individuals, the CHCP gifted this museum building and its interior exhibits to the City of San Jose as a token of friendship from the Chinese community, in spite of past actions by the city with a history of discrimination against the Chinese. It gave me pride to tell the audience gathered that in its 30 years of existence, the museum has been visited by thousands of school children, partly through a CHCP funded program to finance field trips for students in under served communities who would otherwise not be able to take field trips anywhere. This, I told, was just one of many projects my organization has instigated to educate people on the contributions Chinese Americans have made to the history of America.
Among Chinese Historical and Cultural Project members at the event
Looking to the future, I said, “In this anti-Asian hate environment that we see today, it’s a great leap forward because it will bring attention to not only hardships but also what Chinese communities have contributed to this country.
Santa Clara County Supervisor, Otto Lee, also said that this action was especially significant considering the anti Asian hate atmosphere that is permeating the country now. He congratulated the City leaders for their action towards positive unity going forward.
Assemblyman Evan Low speaks of anti Asian hate atmosphere showing continued discrimination even today
California Assemblyman Evan Low echoed these sentiments saying very fervently that although it was important to remember the past, it was imperative that the city continue in its action to work towards racial equity in every aspect of city business. He challenged the Chinese Americans in the audience to embrace the moment but continue movements to fight for equal rights in their home and work place. Many of the government office holders in the audience, nodded in agreement and pledged to lead their constituents in such actions.
Former San Jose school teach Nathan Louie showed support to Gerrye Wong
Realizing this was very newsworthy an action by San Jose, the 10th largest city in the United States, many of the local television stations and their affiliates covered the event, as well as media outlets which sent stories in many places around the world. In addition to coverage by the local Chinese language newspapers, the Sing Tao Daily and World Journal, there were articles published in such areas as the New York Times, South China Post, and many outlets with stories from Associated Press. Others told me of hearing of the Resolution of Apology over the radio news programs, even as far away as from the BBC.
Chi Am Circle women’s club passed out copies of the Resolution of Apology
The City of San Jose’s actions with this resolution of apology has garnered worldwide attention, and I hope it will spur other city governments to adopt a similar resolution for its own particular local acts of discrimination perpetuated in the past against Chinese citizens. I implore you readers in other areas to write your local city government leaders ,encouraging them to follow San Jose’s lead, by showing them the resolution of Apology as adopted by San Jose just a few days ago.
Below for your information and interest is the actual Resolution of Apology which was presented to Gerrye Wong and CHCP, to be placed for viewing in the CHCP’s Museum of Chinese American History.
.Lion Dancers scared away the evil spirits that once lurked against Chinese communities at end of program
CITY OF SAN JOSE RESOLUTION OF APOLOGY.
A RESOLUTION OF THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SAN JOSE APOLOGIZING TO CHINESE IMMIGRANTS
AND THEIR DESCENDANTS FOR ACTS OF FUNDAMENTAL INJUSTICE AND DISCRIMINATION, SEEKING FORGIVENESS AND COMMITTING TO THE RECTIFICATION OF PAST POLICIES AND MISDEEDS
WHEREAS, between 1849 and 1853 about 24,000 young Chinese men immigrated to California and by 1870 there were an estimated 63,000 Chinese in the United States, 77% of whom resided in California; and
WHEREAS, Chinese immigrants were the primary workforce in developing Santa Clara County as the “fruit bowl of America” and San José was home to five Chinatowns including the first Market Street Chinatown (1866-1870), the Vine Street Chinatown (1870-1872), the Second Market Street Chinatown (1872-1887), the Woolen Mills Chinatown (1887-1902), and Heinlenville (1887-1931); and WHEREAS, San José was a center of agriculture, and Chinese immigrants were critical to the economy, industry and progress of Santa Clara Country including in manufacturing and heavy construction, notably as workers on the San José Railroad and Santa Cruz-Monterey Line in the 1870s; and
WHEREAS, Chinese immigrants were met with virulent racism, xenophobia and the violence of anti-Chinese forces in San José from early on and denied equal protection before the law; and
WHEREAS, in 1869, the First Methodist Episcopal Church on 2nd and Santa Clara streets which taught Sunday school to Chinese immigrants was burned to the ground and the minister, Thomas S. Dunn, received death threats; and
WHEREAS, after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which denied naturalization to U.S. citizenship and restricted Chinese immigration, anti-Chinese acts became institutionalized and empowered by federal, state, and local acts and anti-Chinese conventions were held in San José, including the first State Convention of the Anti-Chinese League in 1886; and
WHEREAS, the policies, resolutions, and other actions of the City of San José (“City”) and the City Council directly contributed to the xenophobic discrimination and racial violence faced by Chinese immigrants; and
WHEREAS, the City Council condemned all Chinese laundries on the basis they operated in wooden buildings after denying fourteen Chinese laundry operators who filed a petition on January 14, 1886 requesting to continue their laundry businesses, and Mayor G. T. Settle broke the tie vote and the motion before San José’s City Council to condemn Chinese laundries was carried; and
WHEREAS, the City made plans to remove San José’s Market Street Chinatown for the building of the new City Hall downtown and on March 25, 1887, an order declaring the Chinatown at Market and San Fernando Streets a public nuisance was unanimously approved by Mayor C. W. Breyfogle and the entire City Council; and
WHEREAS, the Market Street Chinatown succumbed to arson on May 4, 1887 before official action could be taken, leading to the destruction of homes and businesses and the displacement of 1,400 members of San José’s Chinese community; and
WHEREAS, on June 2, 1887, after the burning of the Market Street Chinatown, when John Heinlen requested permits for building a new Chinatown on his property, his request was declared out of order by the Mayor; and
WHEREAS, on June 8, 1887 at a mass rally of citizens gathered on the corner of Fifth and Jackson Street to protest the building of a new Chinatown a resolution drafted by Mayor Breyfogle and the entire City Council was read to the crowd stating that a Chinatown is “a public nuisance, injurious to private property adjacent thereto, dangerous to the health and welfare of all citizens who live and have homes in its vicinity, and a standing menace to both public and private morals, peace, quiet and good order, and etc.”; and
WHEREAS, on July 25, 1887 the City Council voted to allow only materials made by white labor in the construction of the new city hall; and
WHEREAS, in 1888, despite vehement opposition from the City and its citizenry, John Heinlen finished construction of the new Chinatown which would be known as Heinlenville and last for 44 years until 1931; and
WHEREAS, in 1949, the City voted to demolish the historic Ng Shing Gung Temple building and take over the property despite attempts by the Chinese community to save the temple as a historic landmark; and
WHEREAS, the City stored the historic Ng Shing Gung altar under the Municipal Stadium where it suffered damage from outdoor exposure for the next 40 years until the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (“CHCP”) was asked to work with the city on collection and maintenance of artifacts found in the building of the Fairmont Hotel in 1987; and
WHEREAS, the Chinese Exclusion Laws were repealed in 1943 and subsequent federal legislation officially banned racial bias in immigration and citizenship, a fundamental step in the struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States;
WHEREAS, the CHCP built a replica of the historic temple building, installed exhibits of Chinese American history of the Santa Clara Valley, and gifted the Museum to the City as a token of friendship and forgiveness from the Chinese American community in 1991; and
WHEREAS, the recent rise in anti-Asian violence and racial discrimination demonstrates that xenophobia remains deeply rooted in our society; and
WHEREAS, Asian-Americans are still considered perpetual foreigners; and
WHEREAS, the story of Chinese immigrants and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them in the 19th and early 20th century should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of San José’s history; and
WHEREAS, the City must acknowledge and take responsibility for the legacy of discrimination against early Chinese immigrants as part of our collective consciousness that helps contribute to the current surge in anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate; and
WHEREAS, a genuine apology for the role of the City in this history and legacy is an important and necessary step in the process of racial reconciliation; and
WHEREAS, an apology for grievous injustices cannot erase the past, but admission of the historic wrongdoings committed can aid us in solving the critical problems of racial discrimination facing America today;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SAN JOSE:
1) Apologizes to all Chinese immigrants and their descendants who came to San José and were the victims of systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia, and discrimination;
2) Acknowledges acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty, and brutality, including the dismantling and destruction of the city’s Chinatowns;
3) Recognizes the contributions and resilience of the Chinese community and their commitment to fostering reconciliation and friendship; and
4) Resolves to rectify the lingering consequences of the discriminatory policies of the City of San José, and to use this resolution as a teaching moment for the public to move forward towards justice for all.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Gerrye Wong and San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez proudly display framed Resolution of Apology