HomeBad Ass AsiansA Vigil for the 1871 Mass Lynching of 17 Chinese in Los...

A Vigil for the 1871 Mass Lynching of 17 Chinese in Los Angeles

By Raymond Douglas Chong, AsAmNews Staff Writer

The Chinese American Museum (CAM) of Los Angeles commemorated the 151st anniversary of the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, California this week.

The Chinese Massacre

On the evening of October 24, 1871, a hateful mob of about 500 Angelenos (Whites and Hispanics) stormed the old Chinatown neighborhood on Calle de los Negros (“Negro Alley”). They assaulted every Chinese and looted their homes and businesses. The mob slaughtered 17 Chinese immigrants and hung them in three places. The infamous Chinese Massacre was triggered by a gunfight between two rival Chinese tongs.

Before the vigil, CAM screened the film – Buried History: Retracing the Chinese Massacre of 1871, narrated by retired City Councilmember Michael Woo:

The Vigil

A solemn vigil was held in the Pico House Courtyard, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.

Dr. Gay Yuen, chair of the Friends of CAM board of directors, mentioned the 2021 City of Los Angeles apology by Mayor Eric Garcetti. He initiated an effort to erect a monument to memorialize the Massacre.

United States House Representative Judy Chu spoke about a congressional perspective of the Massacre and the constant anti-Asian hate in America.

“This horrendous Massacre…led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by the United States Congress, one of the most discriminatory acts in American history. It prevented the Chinese from entering the United States and becoming American citizens. Chinese were the only immigrants who had to carry papers with them at all times. Today, this law is gone, but we must never forget the suffering our earliest Chinese pioneers endured.”

Photo by Raymond Chong

“In the past two and a half years, over 11,000 anti-Asian hate crimes have been documented, and these were only the ones that were reported. But unlike 1871, we are not standing alone.”

“Chinese American history is American history. Today’s vigil is a reminder of the sacrifices that those 17 Chinese made, but it is also a reminder that today we must use our voice to be vigilant against stereotyping, scapegoating, and unchecked bigotry.”

Jason Chu. Photo by Raymond Chong

In a performance, Jason Chu, the rapper, and activist read his poem: “They Were the Seeds.”

As the keynote speaker, Dr. Erika Lee, the award-winning historian and author, of America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States, provided a historical context. She addressed the recent rise in xenophobia and racism toward Asian Americans.

Dr. Lee said that one year after the Massacre, when the Chinese community in Los Angeles gathered to remember the dead, “non-Chinese Angeleno witnesses stood by and laughed. The City’s newspapers mocked the ceremony, complaining that the music was hideously inflicted and derided the collective trauma upon the Chinese community.”

Erika Lee. Photo by Raymond Chong

“It has been 151 years since the Massacre took place on these streets, and it is time to offer a new interpretation.  This was no act of violence perpetrated by a small number of societal outcasts. Five hundred Angelenos participated in the Massacre. At the time, there were less than 6,000 people living in Los Angeles.  The mob represented 8% of the City’s total population. These were not defensive actions taken to protect innocent civilians from Chinese gangsters. We must view this as an all-out attack on all the Chinese in Los Angeles. The rioters shot through the doors and windows, and anyone who tried to run was dragged out and hung.”

Michael Truong, CAM Executive Director, led a procession to the candlelight vigil at the Massacre plaque on Los Angeles Street. Dr. Yuen read the victims’ names. Then she led the traditional Chinese bowing ceremony.

Rep Judy Chu. Photo by Raymond Chong

Today’s vigil reminds us that we must never let this happen again.

– United States House Representative Judy Chu

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you. Powerful film. Important story. I’m hoping my own story of the Chinese fishing villages and the discrimination in Monterey Bay Area can also be seen and remembered. It is a live performance, a dvd, and soon a book.

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