125th anniversary of Chinese expulsion from Tacoma inspires symbolic walk: Chinese Reconciliation Park to raise awareness

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

The four-acre park, on land donated by the National Guard, commemorates the Chinese expulsion from Tacoma.(Photo provided by Lihuang Wung)

While most major cities have a Chinatown, Tacoma does not have one for a reason.

In the 1870s, hundreds of Chinese immigrants came to the Tacoma area to help build a portion of the Northern Pacific Railroad line. They were ordered to leave a decade later. With economic depression fueling unemployment fears, anti-immigrant sentiments, and racial bigotry, Tacoma residents devised a plan to drive immigrant workers out of the community. The result was an order for all Chinese workers in Tacoma to leave the city by Nov. 1, 1885.

About 400 Chinese fled, and Little Hong Kong, a fishing village on Maury Island, vanished.  Roughly 200 Chinese stayed behind. A group led by the mayor and other city officials evicted the remaining Chinese from their homes two days later. The workers were forced to board the morning train to Portland, Ore.

In addition to the expulsion, two Chinese settlements were burned to the ground. The Chinese were actively discouraged from settling in the area until the 1920s. These acts became known as the Tacoma Method.

“This is what happened before,” said Theresa Pan Hosley. “We shouldn’t let it happen again.”

Hosley, a Taiwanese immigrant, is the president of the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation (CRPF), a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 and dedicated to that very cause. The CRPF’s goals are to educate people about this portion of Tacoma’s history, promote and celebrate cultural diversity, and set a reconciliation example for other communities nationwide that have had similar events in their histories.

For her work, Hosley has been chosen as one of 2010’s Top Contributors to the Asian Community.

A bridge overlooking Commencement Bay from the proposed Chinese Reconciliation Park. (Photo provided by Lihuang Wung)

Chinese Reconciliation Park

One of the group’s main roles is working with city officials in designing and constructing the four-acre Chinese Reconciliation Park and International Pavilion. The land where the park is located – 1741 N. Schuster Parkway – was donated by the National Guard. It is near the location of one of the settlements that was burned down during the expulsion.

According to project manager Lihuang Wung, the park is along Commencement Bay and designed like a traditional Chinese scholar-style garden with walls, landforms, interpretive displays, plant life, pavilions, and classrooms. The park will give visitors an opportunity to learn about the Tacoma Method and the Chinese language and to participate in arts, crafts, and cultural activities.

“I believe the park will be a most significant landmark not only for the city of Tacoma but also as a place of national interest, a living project, and model of reconciliation effort,” said Lotus Perry. “As an immigrant from Taiwan, just like Theresa, and a naturalized citizen who now calls Tacoma home, I am gratified to learn of the city’s effort to reconcile with the past.”

Perry is an instructor at the University of Puget Sound (UPS) in the Asian Studies program. She also serves as a member of the CRPF board. Perry said her background prompted her to get involved in the project and that she has found the experience to be very rewarding.

Wung is a senior planner in the Community and Economic Development Department with the city. He is also the project manager for the park.

“I was assigned as the project manager for the Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park in early 2009 upon the retirement of my predecessor who had been the project manager for 17 years,” Wung said. “ … I have been a general member of the nonprofit CRPF since 1994, but my involvement in the Chinese reconciliation process has not been as heavy as it should have [been].”

The park will be designed like a traditional Chinese scholar-style garden. (Photo provided by Lihuang Wung)

Now, Wung is involved in a number of ways. He coordinates with the Public Works Department on design, construction, and maintenance of elements and facilities around the park, manages community outreach aspects of the project, and acts as the liaison between the CRPF and the city. Wung also deals with the project’s funding issues.

“I oversee grant applications for potential funding sources from federal, state and local, and private entities,” he said.

The project will cost an estimated $12 million, and with roughly $5.2 million raised through a combination of city funds, state grants, and private donations, Wung and others involved have a little more than halfway to go financially.

According to Wung, park construction began in 2005 and has been broken down into four phases. The first two phases – consisting primarily of non-structural elements – are largely complete. The remaining two phases, which are not currently funded, involve buildings, additional garden features, and other structures.

Educating individuals about the past

Hosley has stated that so far, the project has been well received by the public, However, it did take some time for them to gain momentum and support.

“When we first started, people didn’t know about this piece of history,” she said. “They were surprised.”

Hosley said this is the main reason why it has taken so long for people to acknowledge the tragic events.

Suzanne Wilson Barnett, a Chinese historian and retired history professor at UPS, was one such individual who was unaware of this piece of Tacoma history. Barnett taught at the university for more than three decades, including courses about China and Japan, but she knew very little about the history of the Chinese in the city. Having been part of the project since the beginning, she is now an active but unofficial member of the CRPF board.

“I have benefited greatly from the opportunity to become informed about the expulsion and have felt privileged to work with others who have been members of the board,” she said. “Others have set a high standard of board performance, and in my view, I have not lived up to the high standard sustained by others.”

This, however, has not discouraged her.  Barnett continues to support the board’s objective of educating people about the expulsion and supporting the park project.

Like Hosley, Barnett said once people learned about the events, they were very responsive to the Chinese Reconciliation Park. She added that there was some initial concern about focusing on just the Chinese at the expense of other minority groups, including the Japanese who were interned during World War II. Barnett said the CRPF argued that portraying one group’s story well would make a point about people of other backgrounds.

“This is preferable to mixing all stories into a single ‘reconciliation’ that would lack any specificity and thus have very limited meaning,” she said. “Moreover, the point of our particular reconciliation effort is to have a space that by its very existence aims at promoting harmony in Tacoma as both a civic entity and a community.”

Walk for Reconciliation Fundraiser on Oct. 30

In an effort to garner attention for the project and raise the remaining $7 million, the CRPF is holding a Walk for Reconciliation on Saturday, Oct. 30.

According to the foundation’s Web site, the walk will mark the 125th anniversary of the Chinese expulsion.

It will be led by the city’s 2010 Group of 27, a group of individuals who hold similar positions as the 27 individuals in 1885 who led the group that drove out the Chinese workers – from the mayor and city council members to school board members and other city officials.

The walk begins at 10 a.m. across the street and one block north of Union Station in Tollefson Plaza. Walkers will proceed north along Pacific Avenue and then continue along Schuster Parkway and onto North 30th Street to McCarver, before turning east toward the waterfront and into the Chinese Reconciliation Park.

“The show of support (during the walk) will help push funding,” Hosley said. ♦

The Walk for Reconciliation will be held on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 10:00 a.m. For more information, visit www.crpftacoma.org.

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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