By Indunil Usgoda Arachchi
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The crowd treads together along the trail of tears, where their ancestors were forcibly deported. Although it was a nightmare long ago, the shades of pain and uncertainty remain. The only way is to make a noise, not only for the past tears of ancestors but for securing the present and the future of all humans here.
“Where is our home?” They chant continuously in unison as they walk through the streets. It is the voice of generations who have passed a number of horrible tragedies, and also the voice of everyone’s rights and solidarity.
“Home is here, where is our home, home is here.”
On Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, the Chinese community in the greater Seattle area marked the 137th anniversary of one of the darkest occasions in Chinese American history and Seattle history—the Chinese Expulsion Act and the Seattle riot of 1886.
“It’s important to remember,” Dr. Connie So, a professor of Teaching at the University of Washington (UW)’s American Ethnic Studies department and the president of OCA, Asian Pacific American advocates of Greater Seattle. “But also, not to let it drown out what you want to do yourself.”
This is the fourth time the Chinese Expulsion has been formally remembered in Seattle. The first and second remembrances had been held in 1986 and 2011 for the 100th and 125th anniversaries. The third one was also organized by the United Chinese Americans of Washington (UCAWA) last year.
People from more than 20 local Chinese American organizations got together at Hing Hay Park in the Chinatown-International District (CID). Before marching down to the waterfront to mark the path by which Chinese Americans were forcibly deported, they shared the memories of both superior and worst scenarios their ancestors and they experienced.
Dr. So spoke about how the CID is still here even though the people were driven out and destroyed in history. She reminded the ancestors who had the strength to overcome all the tragedies by standing together. “We’re still fighting for our rights, for our recognition and to continue thriving in our communities,” she said. “Our people are really resilient.”
The Seattle riot of 1886, occurring between Feb. 6-9, 1886, was one of the largest ethnic pogroms in American history. Hundreds of Chinese people living in Seattle were expelled at gunpoint, and several were killed.
Rising anti-Chinese sentiment, caused by intense labor competition and the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act by the U.S. Congress in 1882, triggered the riot. In a later ironic twist, some remaining Chinese were key to reconstruction after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which destroyed Seattle’s entire Central District.
Dr. So recalled the recent violence in various states to draw attention to the purpose of the remembrance. Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 149% from 2019 to 2020 in America’s 16 largest cities, including Seattle. Locally in Seattle, hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased to 1:3, with 227 in 2019 to 500 in 2020, she noted.
“We never want to see something like that happen again to anyone else. As people who care about our communities, we should care about everybody, not just because this happened and impacted many Chinese Americans.”
It was not only a remembrance of a tragedy. The poster display, as well as the speeches there, marked the remembrance, celebration, and acknowledgment of the contributions of Chinese Americans who spend significant time in the state of Washington.
According to the organizers, the commemoration aimed to raise awareness and draw attention to this checkered past such that these failures will never be repeated with a new generation of immigrants, regardless of origin.
“We hope to draw attention to the discrimination and violence experienced by the Chinese American community over the past 150 years,” remarked Winston Lee, president of UCAWA. “At the same time, we want to highlight the contributions made by the Chinese and all other immigrant communities towards bettering America together.”
Rep. Adam Smith raised the importance of remembering the expulsion as there seems to be a rise in hate and crimes against Asian Americans after COVID.
“We need to remember the history of the war to prevent it going forward,” Smith told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “We must celebrate all of the tremendous contributions and accomplishments of the Chinese American community here in Seattle, across the state, and the country.”
134 years later, on Jan. 21, 2020, Chinese people in Seattle were once again under threat and attacked. Seattle was the first U.S. city to report a COVID-19 case. Even international health officials purposely avoided attaching geography to the virus and issued guidelines. Then former President Donald Trump called it the “Chinese Virus.”
Over the past two years, it led to a wave of crime and discrimination against Asian Americans. Researchers have also found an increase in anti-Asian hashtags and an increase in hate crimes following Trump’s tweet on March 16, 2020.
Also, hundreds of anti-Asian incidents have been tracked and reported by some organizations, such as Asian American Advancing Justice.
“I want to say that as your attorney general, my job is to represent you to make sure your rights are protected.” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said to the community at Hing Hay Park. Ferguson spoke about Wing Luke as a role model for his life and society. He recalled the invaluable contribution Wing Luke has made.
Many officials, organizations, and people participated in this event with the aim of remembering past tragedies and working to get rid of present and future dangers.
“We see vestiges of hatred throughout our country every day,” Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson said. “The only way to fight hatred is to let them know in no uncertain terms that hate has no home here, ever.”
Despite the community having the pain of dark memories, it still has glorious occasions to share the joy. People marched down the streets in CID and the sound of them chanting together reverberates everywhere. It is not a voice for one community, but it is a voice for all the discriminated and marginalized people here. A united voice for all the people of diversity to protect their rights.
“Where is our home, home is here, and we belong here.”
douglas chin says
There are several factual errors in this article which should be corrected:
One paragraph states: “The Seattle riot of 1886, occurring between Feb. 6-9, 1886 was one of the largest ethnic pogroms in American history. Hundreds of Chinese people living in Seattle were expelled at gunpoint and several were killed.”
In fact, the “riot” occurred on Feb. 7, just one day, and the Chinese were not expelled at gunpoint and no Chinese were killed. Moreover, this Anti-Chinese riot was not one of the largest ethnic pogroms in American history. The massacres against American Indians, and the hangings and riots against Blacks in the United States far exceed the brutality faced by the Chinese in Seattle on Feb.7. In the 1880s alone, there were nearly 200 towns in California, Oregon and Washington where the Chinese were driven out of town. Some of these were much more severe than the Anti-Chinese riot in Seattle. For instance, the Anti-Chinese riot in Tacoma, which occurred three months prior to the Seattle riot, resulted in the forced expulsion of some 700 Chinese, a number of Chinese killed or injured, and the burning of the Chinese quarters.
Another paragraph reads: “Rising anti-Chinese sentiment, caused by intense labor competition and the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act by the U.S. Congress in 1882, triggered the riots. In a later ironic twist, some remaining Chinese were key to reconstruction after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which destroyed Seattle’s entire Central District.”
Actually, the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the result of the anti-Chinese sentiment… not a cause of anti-Chinese sentiment. The anti-Chinese sentiment emerged not long after the first arrival of Chinese in America in California 1849 and spread throughout the West. Furthermore, the anti-Chinese sentiment came about not only because Chinese were seen as unfair labor competition and “tools of the Capitalist, but also because of the negative image of Chinese as an inferior race, deceitful, despotic, filthy and intellectually inferior. Clearly, this sentiment led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which many hoped would result of the expulsion of Chinese from America. When it did not, many took up violent and unlawful means to expel the Chinese.
Finally, the notion that “Chinese were key to reconstruction after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889…” is incorrect. While some Chinese like Chin Chun Hock and Chin Gee Hee built brick buildings on Second Avenue in what is now called “Pioneer Square,” the Chinese did not play a major role in the reconstruction of Seattle’s business district.
The 1886 anti-Chinese in Seattle was a horrific racist event that should be told. We have the responsibility to reveal the facts about the riot accurately so that we can learn from it, and to establish a credible case for the remembrance of the 1882 anti-Chinese riot in Seattle.