By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Seattle Riot of 1886 occurred February 6-9 of that year, and featured anti-Chinese violence from the local Knights of Labor movement—climaxing with the forced march of some 350 Chinese from their homes in Chinatown, to a steamship expected to haul them away. Seattle Sheriff John McGraw, and his men, trying to fulfill a court order to let the uprooted return to their homes, faced riots over the arrest of the anti-Chinese leaders, resulting in several serious injuries. Territorial governor Watson Squire (Washington wouldn’t become a state until 1889), had to evoke martial law to quell that rioting.
The Knights of Labor forced Chinese families to board the steamship “Queen of the Pacific” from a pier adjacent to the Compass Center Day Center, near the corner of South Washington and Alaskan Way. Across from there, the commemorative Chinese American Legacy Artwork Project, or CALAP, is scheduled for future installation.
Local artist Stewart Wong, born and raised in Hawaii but a Seattle resident since 1982, remembered, “The project was made known to me by Chinatown-International District community member and activist Bettie Luke. I remember meeting Bettie Luke sometime in the 1980s when visiting Wing Luke Museum.”
Wong’s done other public art installations in and around Seattle, notably the Wing Luke Museum’s Community Hall, and Sammamish Park and Ride. But he took a distinctive approach to the CALAP.
“The installation serves to bring awareness, educate and encourage conversations about this city’s erased history,” Wong said. “The freestanding installation is planned to be fabricated out of bronze and stainless steel.
“There are six life-size human figures, and a 14-feet tall ‘X’ structure, supporting weapon shapes, and the Scales of Justice above The bronze figures will be dark browns and midnight blues. The ‘X’ steel structure will be coated with a black finish and the components above in a bronze finish.”
The installation of the CALAP is contingent upon fundraising efforts. The process has been delayed due to COVID-19, resulting in increased costs. The CALAP committee decided to cast the figures in bronze, further adding to the expenses.
Cassie Chinn, executive director at the Wing Luke Museum, explained the fundraising process.
“We are grateful to Historic South Downtown and 4Culture for support of our community-led artist selection and design process. We are currently seeking funding support for fabrication and installation of [CALAP], and are grateful to the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, National and Seattle Chapter, for their support. We also have received support from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, through the Neighborhood Matching Fund, to gather stories related to the history of the anti-Chinese Riots and Exclusion in Seattle, and create an online digital exhibit to share about the experience and the Chinese American Legacy Artwork Project.
“We are hoping to raise upwards of $500,000 for completion of the artwork. Donations can be made through the Wing Luke Museum, which is serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor. We do not have a firm timeline for installation yet as we continue to fundraise for the project, but we hope that it can happen soon.”
Bettie Luke, a long-time activist and instrumental figure in the development of CALAP, hopes that the project will be regarded as a permanent lesson, emphasizing that unjust and unconstitutional means cannot be employed to bully any group of people. She addressed concerns some may have about exposing the harmful experiences of individuals, stating, “Some people are afraid that if you expose lessons of some people being harmed, that it is teaching people to hate America. However, the opposite is true. We love America so much that we can teach people to not repeat such harmful behaviors.”
For more information on the design and background for the Chinese American Legacy Art Project, visit https://purplemoondesign.com/1886-chinese-expulsion.php , and https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/Neighborhoods/HistoricPreservation/HistoricDistricts/PioneerSquare/MeetingDocuments/Chinese_America_Legacy_Art_Project.pdf .