Los Angeles plans memorial to commemorate one of worst attacks on Chinese people in US – KION546

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By Harmeet Kaur, CNN

With the exception of one small bronze plaque On a downtown sidewalk, Los Angeles shows very little evidence of a massacre that took place 150 years ago – one of the worst in U.S. history.

Michael Woo, who in 1985 became the first Asian American elected to Los Angeles City Council, says he has never heard of the 1871 Chinese massacre grow up, despite being born and raised in the city. It wasn’t taught in school, it didn’t show up in the history books, and it seemed to him that no one in the city’s Chinese-American community knew about it either.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Woo was invited by the Los Angeles Times to review a book on the massacre he learned about this dark chapter in the history of his city.

“It was shocking,” said Woo, who is now retired from politics. “It had a huge effect on me because I couldn’t understand why I had never heard of it.”

Los Angeles in the 19th century was a Old West city of less than 6,000 people with a reputation for anarchy and vigilance. On October 24, 1871, a a gunfight broke out between two rival factions in the town’s small Chinese community and as the police tried to break up the argument, one of them was killed. Word quickly spread that Chinese men had killed a white man and soon after a crowd about 500 people descended on Chinatown, looting and torching homes and businesses and killing about 18 Chinese – about 10% of the city’s Chinese population at the time, according to Woo and historical records.

Woo is now one of the several local leaders in Los Angeles involved in an effort to build an ambitious memorial to the 1871 massacre. The proposed project took on new urgency given the wave of violence against Asian Americans caused by the pandemic, as well as the deadly Atlanta spa shootouts earlier this year, he said.

“This anti-Asian sentiment in the United States made some people realize that the Los Angeles massacre kind of laid the groundwork for subsequent violence,” Woo said.

The massacre of 1871 was not a isolated incident. This took place at a time of heightened violence, xenophobia and discrimination against Asians in the United States, many of whom had come as laborers during the Gold Rush and had since started working. in other low-level jobs. Woo and other local leaders believe this part of their town’s history merits reflection, given recent violent events.

Leaders want the memorial to be more than a statue

In April of this year, a task force commissioned by Mayor Eric Garcetti to examine how Los Angeles could better reflect its history advised that the city is working to commemorate the massacre of 1871. In July, Garcetti and council member Kevin de León formed a committee of more than 60 people, including Woo, to start thinking about how the event could be commemorated exactly.

Last week, this committee – formerly known as the 1871 Memorial Steering Committee – published a report offering suggestions on how the story of the massacre could be told through a memorial.

The committee made it clear that they wanted to go beyond a simple traditional statue. Since the events of the massacre took place in several places in the city, they proposed a memorial spread over several sites. It could be connected by a walking tour or involve digital technology that would allow visitors to use their smartphones to learn about the importance of each site.

“We are very committed to making this a world class memorial – something that people will really want to see, which not only includes physical monuments, but is very effective in telling the story of violence,” Woo said. “[We want] for people to see that it’s not just about the past, it’s about something very current in terms of the overlap of races and the violence that is still a big problem in America today.

Los Angeles is committed $ 250,000 towards the project, which Woo says will fund a design competition that will allow artists to come up with ideas for the memorial. This process is expected to begin early next year and it will likely be several more years before the project is completed, Woo said. CNN has contacted the mayor’s office for comment.

The memorial planned for the Chinese massacre of 1871 comes as communities across the country count with their stories: what events were commemorated, what events were omitted, and how they might imagine more complete and truthful accounts. At the same time, students, educators and lawmakers lobbied for Asian American Studies to teach in Kindergarten to Grade 12 programs.

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