San Jose Apologizes for Decades of Discrimination Against Chinese
Sept. 30, 2021
The city of San Jose, Calif., apologized this week to Chinese immigrants and their descendants, acknowledging its role in nearly a century of violence and discrimination, including the dismantling and destruction of the city’s Chinatowns. A resolution that the City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday also recognizes the contributions of San Jose’s Chinese community. It also acknowledges “acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty and brutality” and aims to use the apology as a teachable moment. Officials in Antioch, Calif., approved a similar resolution in May. San Jose was home to five Chinatowns, the first of which flourished on Market Street from 1866 to 1870, when the city was a center for agriculture, the resolution says. Chinese immigrants faced racism and xenophobia and were denied equal protection under the law. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted Chinese immigration and declared that state and federal courts could not grant citizenship to Chinese immigrants.
As anti-Asian discrimination became institutionalized in the years that followed, San Jose moved to dismantle the second Market Street Chinatown to make way for a new City Hall. In 1887, the City Council declared the neighborhood a “public nuisance” and “dangerous to the health and welfare of all citizens.” City officials at the time also said the Chinatown market was a “standing menace to both public and private morals, peace, quiet and good order.” Raul Peralez, a City Council member, said the city was “committed to continue to build a better future for all immigrants here in San Jose.”Credit...NBC Bay Area
Before action could be taken, an act of arson destroyed the market, homes and businesses, displacing 1,400 members of the Chinese community. A request for permits to rebuild was declared out of order by the mayor. In 1949, the city demolished the Ng Shing Gung Temple, the last vestige of the city’s Heinlenville Chinatown, over the objections of historians and Chinese American residents. The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project built a replica of the temple, with exhibits about Chinese American history in the Santa Clara Valley, and gave it to the city in 1991 as a token of friendship and forgiveness. The apology resolution was drafted after a recent string of hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans across the city and country, which prompted discussions among city officials, Raul Peralez, a City Council member, said before the vote on Tuesday. Mr. Peralez said the resolution was a “profound moment” for the Chinese community and the city.
Passing the resolution, which did not appear to have significant opposition in the city, was an opportunity for the council to “personally speak to our Chinese community,” Mr. Peralez said, and to “say sorry to our community for what they have endured, and that we are committed to continue to build a better future for all immigrants here in San Jose.” Mr. Peralez said on Thursday that San Jose “has worked to be an inclusive and welcoming city for all, and that means facing head-on its past mistakes.” “This long-overdue apology from the city,” he added, “will be a step forward towards much healing.” Gerrye Wong, a longtime resident and a co-founder of the city’s Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, also said Thursday that the apology was “long overdue.” “But the action is there now, and with this getting worldwide attention in the media, hopefully the schools will now be including all Asian American history in their curriculums,” she said. Connie Young Yu, a historian and a descendant of residents of two of San Jose’s Chinatowns, said she “felt, all these years, anger, a gnawing sense of injustice and something unresolved until now.”Credit...NBC Bay Area
Connie Young Yu, a historian and a descendant of residents of two of San Jose’s Chinatowns, shared her personal connection to the resolution at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. “My grandfather never expressed bitterness for the hardships he and his kin suffered during and from the Market Street fire,” Ms. Yu said, “but I felt, all these years, anger, a gnawing sense of injustice and something unresolved until now.”
The city held a ceremony on Wednesday to recognize the apology. Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose, told KNTV that it was “important for every generation to step up and to acknowledge the darkest parts of our collective history.”