Rendering of Heinlenville Park from Ken Kay Associates, Ankrom Moisan
It’s official. The name for a new park in San Jose’s Japantown has been confirmed: Heinlenville Park, after German immigrant and businessman John Heinlen.
The unanimous vote by the city council follows a controversial months-long debate over the park’s proposed name — between Sakura Park or Heinlenville Park.
According to The Mercury News, “the (parks) commission unanimously chose Sakura Park” which they felt honored a beloved Japanese symbol.
Chinese and Japanese American residents, however, supported naming it after Heinlen who in 1870 turned his property into a safe-haven for the Chinese community.
An arson fire then destroyed San Jose’s Chinatown, but Heinlen provided affordable leases in spite of strong opposition from the White community.
Parks Commissioner Larry Ames who suggested Sakura Park as “more than a history lesson for the few” and “[something] I thought would better honor the entire community” stood by his opinion in a letter to city council, The Mercury News reported. But a letter from fifth-generation Japantown resident Tamiko Rast and historian Connie Young Yu stated that, “Assigning a contemporary brand to a historic enclave is the very definition of whitewashing, removes an opportunity to show others how diversity ruled in spite of popular opinion [and reduces us] to an ornamental stereotype.”
A Facebook post by Japantown Community Congress of San Jose announced the news about Heinlenville Park’s official name the next morning, attaching a recording of the proceedings: “Thank you to those who stayed until nearly 9 p.m. to watch [them] begin. Thank you to those who spoke; all very wonderful and unexpected!”
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