Over the last year, Asian communities made significant strides in ‘righting’ wrongs.
In October, Tacoma remembered the Chinese who were ordered to leave the city in 1885, after they had finished building a portion of the Northern Pacific Railroad line. To commemorate and try to reconcile the past, the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation (CRPF) organized the Walk for Reconciliation on Oct. 30.
Additionally, Tacoma is in the midst of building a Chinese reconciliation park.
Over the weekend, Seattle remembered its own expulsion of the Chinese in 1886. The Chinese Expulsion Remembrance Project (CERP) organized two free events, which included a rally and march on Feb. 12.
Some people might say that dedicating so much time and effort toward something that is largely symbolic — such as reconciliation for past misdeeds — is unnecessary.
However, we were struck by an incident during the Seattle rally and march, which started at the intersection of South Washington Street and Alaskan Way South, where the Chinese were put aboard ships and forced back to China in 1886. A fair number of people on the street weren’t aware of what was going on and asked about it.
Most were receptive. However, there was one woman, who was white, who adamantly denied the past when she was told the reason for the march and rally. She said that it wasn’t true and that the Chinese expulsion didn’t happen.
The woman is an example of one of the great challenges in garnering support for these projects and parks: educating the public. Theresa Pan Hosley, president of CRPF, has said, “When we first started, people didn’t know about this piece of history. They were surprised.” She said that it took some time for the Tacoma project to gain support and momentum.
However, we don’t mean to say that there haven’t been non-Asians who know what is going on and stand up for what is right, whether then or now. Husband and wife, Charles and Nancy Anderson told us the story of Nancy’s great-grandfather, Louis Banks, who was one of two pastors who escorted the Chinese out of Seattle.
The reason Banks was asked to be an escort by the sheriff was because, at the time, there had been so much tension, a lot of anger, and the sheriff was afraid that a mob would murder the Chinese. The pastors had to carry rifles. Banks was also one of the few to stand up against the anger, saying that the expulsion was wrong and that it shouldn’t happen.
Everyone, not just Asian Americans, can benefit from learning about this unfortunate piece of history. After all, when we dig into the past, we can uncover stories like Banks’.
We need to know exactly what happened so that we can make it common knowledge, in order to move on and learn from past mistakes. The responsibility to educate and be educated doesn’t just lie with Chinese Americans, but all Americans. There is so much cultural diversity around us and perhaps we have taken it for granted. It it not hard to ask your neighbor a simple question about their cultural heritage. Sometimes, people are afraid that they’ll offend with their questions — but we find, through interviewing so many people over the years, that people love talking about their culture. Most of them are happy to share. ♦