Pictured with resolutions from the City of Los Angeles and State Assembly are (from left): Assemblymember Ed Chau, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, Friends of the Chinese American Museum Board Chair Dr. Gay Yuen, CAM Executive Director Michael Truong, and City Councilmember Kevin de Leon. (Courtesy Chinese American Museum)

Rafu Staff Report

Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an apology on behalf of the City of Los Angeles on Sunday for the massacre of Chinese immigrants in 1871 and announced plans to build a monument as a reminder of the tragic events that resulted from unchecked racism and hate.

On Oct. 24, 1871, a mob of 500 mostly white Angelenos descended on L.A.’s Chinese district and hunted down, tortured, and killed 18 Chinese immigrants, including a young boy and the immigrant community’s only medical doctor.

The incident, which began as an argument between two rival tongs, received nationwide attention. It is believed to be the largest recorded mass lynching in U.S. history.

Eight men were tried and convicted; however, the convictions were overturned because laws iin place at the time prevented Chinese from testifying in open court, The perpetrators were released.

In announcing a $2 million donation from California’s budget, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) stated, “Los Angeles is a city of deep and diverse cultural roots entwined with a permeated history with racism, inequity, and heartbreak. It’s important to illuminate the history of our city and celebrate the courage and resilience of the Chinese American community.”

Chinese immigrants lie dead in the streets of Los Angeles after a mass hanging on Oct. 24, 1871.

“Our California budget is a reflection of our values and this memorial to the victims of the Chinese Massacre is long overdue,” Carrillo added. “I hope that by bringing it into the public consciousness, we acknowledge a more comprehensive history of the people that make our city and create a future that is brighter than our past.”

The funds will be applied toward building the Unity Garden, a memorial to healing and reflection that will become part of the Chinese American Museum’s forecourt.

City Councilmember Kevin de Leon termed the incident “the worst atrocity in our city’s history. This was a racially motivated massacre perpetuated by a white mob against Chinese immigrants plain and simple.

“The sentiments that resemble almost exactly the current political rhetoric and hostile attitudes that we hear today (about) all of our immigrant communities. This hateful antagonism directed at our Chinese immigrants back in 1871 was a powder keg building up. All it needed was a spark.”

In 2009, de Leon authored a resolution along with Assemblymembers Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) and Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) that became the first apology ever passed addressing the institutional racism that denied Chinese immigrants basic human rights. U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and former Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) carried the resolution to the federal level.

Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo speaks during the ceremony. She donated $2 million from the state budget toward building of the Unity Garden in memory of the massacre victims. (Courtesy Chinese American Museum)

Last April, Garcetti announced the findings of his Civic Memory Working Group, which was formed to “more accurately and appropriately commemorate (both) triumphant and tragic moments in the city’s history.” The group’s recommendations included a memorial to the victims of the 1871 massacre, an indigenous land acknowledgement policy, and a framework for a memorial to the victims of COVID-19.

The mayor closed his remarks during the commemoration event, saying, “I’m sorry for this city. I’m sorry for those who were official representatives of this and the violence that they begat. I’m sorry for the unchecked violence that happened and took the lives of 19 of our fellow Angelenos…but we know that saying ‘sorry” has to come with actions and not just words.”

Dr. Gay Yuen, board chair of Friends of the Chinese American Museum (FCAM), addressed Garcetti: “Thank you, Mayor. It meant a lot today for you to say those words.”

Chu led the contingent of speakers, which also included Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), El Pueblo Commissioner David Louie, FCAM first vice chair Paula Madison, and museum executive director Michael Truong.

Both the State Legislature and L.A. City Council passed resolutions in commemoration of the Oct. 24 tragedy.

Rep. Judy Chu: “Each year, this event is a painful reminder of the discriminatory and violent treatment Chinese immigrants endured in America. 150 years later, we are still witnessing acts of hateful violence towards AAPIs. Since March of 2020 there have been 9,000 recorded hate crimes against AAPIs. We have the opportunity to not repeat history, and I am so glad the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was passed so we can improve our hate crime tracking and response.”

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