By Debby Cheng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A crowd of nearly 1,000 people gathered around Hing Hay Park in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (CID) on Feb. 12, 2022 in remembrance of the 136th anniversary of the Chinese expulsion.
The rally—which wound its way to the waterfront and back to the CID—was the brainchild of Winston Lee and it quickly gained the support of over 20 Chinese community organizations.
“I see the community very divided,” said Lee. “This rally brought left and right, old and new immigrants together.”
It also brought people together to stand against hate crimes towards Asian Americans.
Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke said in comments opening the event that the gathering was important to share remembered experiences and to ensure that history is told from the perspective of the affected communities.
“We as Chinese Americans and Asian Americans have every right to bear the responsibility, to be the active members of the community, because we care about the community, about our future,” he said.
Locke is a third-generation Chinese American. He was born in the Seattle area and started his political career in Seattle in 1982 in the Washington State House of Representatives.
“We were kicked out of Seattle 136 years ago. And we say it won’t happen again,” Locke said. “But it is happening again. It is happening again when they say the ‘kung-fu virus,’ the ‘China virus,’ the ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘all of you need to go back home.’”
“This is our home!” Locke shouted, and the crowd broke into sustained applause.
Chinese people were rounded up in 1886, taken down to the docks, and kicked out of Seattle. According to HistoryLink.org, America struggled with hard economic times in the 1870s and 1880s, and white workers came to view Chinese immigrants as threats to the few available jobs. On Feb. 7, 1886, violence broke out in Seattle and citizens forcibly expelled most of the city’s Chinese population, killing one and injuring four Chinese Americans. It took 20 years for Seattle’s Chinese population to return to its 1885 levels.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said that during these past two years of the global pandemic, Asian and Pacific Islander communities in this country have been singled out by racists and people who wish to lay blame on people who look different.
“We gather right here to say no. We will not stand for it in our community.
We will stop Asian hate and will continue to stand against racism, ignorance, and violence in our community,” Constantine said. “King County must be a place where all newcomers can be fully, equally welcomed.”
According to the statistics from the Seattle Police Department, there were 38 and 49 hate crimes against Asians last year and in 2020, respectively. It is still significantly higher than the number of 21 cases of Asian-related hate crime in 2019.
When COVID arrived in 2020, small businesses in Chinatown were vandalized and robbed. Seattle resident Suyan Wen, who participated in the event, said that she no longer feels safe.
“Look at all the restaurants and windows. Everything is broken and lots of people are afraid to come here,” Wen said. “Before the pandemic, I came down here a lot, enjoyed walking here. After COVID, I’m very afraid, especially in the evening and nighttime.”
Wen brought her husband, Frank Grabner, along to the event.
“Hearing that something like this (Chinese expulsion) was allowed to happen is just mind boggling to me,” Grabner said.
For Lily Yin, Newport PTSA co-president and Bellevue PTSA Council board member, her participation marks the culmination of a long effort to bring corporate support to issues of education and social justice. Before the march, Yin lobbied her company, BPM Accounting and Consulting Firm, to allow her to represent her 900 colleagues at the event. She and a colleague raised placards representing the company.
“I am so grateful that the firm really cares about the AAPI committee. At the same time, we hope the Chinese community can feel support from other communities during the event. I am glad to move forward a little step and receive huge support from the firm and the other communities. We are not alone,” Yin said.
Yufan Mou, a Chinese American junior studying at the University of Washington, was invited to the event by her father, who is a representative of the Olympia Area Chinese Association. She is a second-generation Asian American.
Mou never learned about the Chinese expulsion at school.
“It’s really great to learn about the culture and the history of this event since as a younger Chinese American, I definitely haven’t had much exposure to this history,” she said.
Living in a diverse community like Seattle, Mou thinks this remembrance, and this type of event in general, is extremely important for creating more exposure and awareness for the local community when anti-Asian hate crime happens.
“Asian Americans standing up for ourselves is the strongest way to be able to give ourselves a voice. So I think that in the cases when these types of situations occur, we need to make sure that we are standing up for ourselves and changes are made,” Mou said.
Angeles Muñoz was visiting her sister, Isabella Muñoz, who currently resides in the greater Seattle area, and brought her to pay a visit to Chinatown. The two of them had no idea what the Chinese expulsion was.
After directly introducing the expulsion to the sisters, they think people of that time made a terrible decision that today’s community can learn from.
“That’s really unfortunate that people have such a closed-off mindset. And I think there’s always room to have different cultures in our community,” said Angeles Muñoz. Isabella Muñoz added, “Just cutting off other people is not the right way because there is so much culture we could be open to learn about.”
The sisters are not the only ones who came to experience the atmosphere of the Chinese community. Jack Woo, a Chinese American, brought his two 7-year-old sons, Evan and Jayden, to the event because he heard there would be a traditional Chinese lion dance.
Woo learned about the purpose of the event only after arriving.
“I hope the event brings better change or impact,” Woo said. “As Asians, we are trying to help out. We are not a threat.”
This was the third time the local Chinese community organized a walk and rally to remember the Chinese Expulsion Act over the past 35 years.
When asked what was next, Winston Lee said “We’d like to see if we can make a statue at the waterfront to remember this part of history.”
Debby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.