By Karin Chan
Pamela Ng, a Chinese American who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, used to visit Los Angeles’s Chinatown once a week during her childhood. When she learned about the 1871 LA Chinese Massacre during a tour at the Chinese American Museum at 19 years old, she felt upset that she had not known about it sooner, and that it had happened only a few blocks way from her Chinatown community.
Although it is now designated as part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Old Chinatown was the site of “possibly the worst lynching in American history,” which targeted Chinese residents in that community, SCPR reported.
The Chinese American Museum commemorated the 145th anniversary of the LA Chinese Massacre on Monday night with speeches from community leaders, a candle light vigil, and a wreath-laying ceremony to respect those who had been brutally murdered on Los Angeles Street, which used to be called La Calle de Los Negros. Multiple speakers said that it is necessary to remember and educate people about the massacre to ensure that it would never happen again.
Congresswoman Judy Chu, the first Chinese American women elected to Congress, spoke about the injustice, in which seven convictions were overturned by a judge, with only one person who served any jail time for the massacre, and the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which stopped Chinese immigration and citizenship.
“The shocking massacre reflects the fact that the Chinese were scapegoats for the economic woes of the time,” Chu said. “…We must never forget the suffering of what our earliest pioneers endured because they did not have a voice.” Chu also called upon elected officials, organizations, and community members to continue protecting the civil rights of people of all backgrounds.
As many as 14 Chinese were lynched, with a total of 18 people dead in the massacre, according to Scott Zesch’s The Chinatown War. A mob of about 500 people enacted this race-based violence against Chinese residents on Oct. 24, 1871, blaming a man’s death on a group of people who were predominantly men and cooks, according to Zesch. The death toll also included Chinese physician, Dr. Gene Tong, who begged for his life in English and Spanish before he was shot and hanged, said David Louie, who serves on the Historical Monument board.
The massacre took out 10 percent of the Chinese population, said Eugene Moy, a board member of Friends of the Chinese American Museum. “The Chinese were embedded in the economy and social structure of Los Angeles. Yet, the Chinese were perceived as foreign, exotic, alien. There was a fear that if there were too many Chinese, then it would cause problems for the dominant culture,” Moy said.
Former museum intern Pamela Ng emphasized in her speech the importance of younger generations of Chinese Americans to be conscious of this American history, even though it may be erased from the mainstream.
“The more I learned, the more I began to destroy the idea that we, as Chinese Americans, Asian Americans, were ever once or ever will be silent, passive or apolitical,” said Ng, a recent graduate from the Claremont Colleges.
Ng also said that Asian Americans should continue that legacy of social justice work to be in solidarity with each other, and speak up about the xenophobic rhetoric against Muslim folks, in an interview with AsAm News.
She said that Asian Americans have the power to be allies and connect with each other through their shared history of resistance to racism. “It’s really important to listen, not to push when we aren’t being asked to push, but to be there when we are being called on. If you have South Asian friends, don’t make assumptions about their experiences, but be there for them, and check in on them. Make sure they are OK. Be like, ‘Hey, do you need me? What can I do for you right now? I’m here for you,’” Ng said.
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