Los Angeles issues apology, makes memorial pledge on the 150th anniversary of Chinese massacre

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On Sunday, Los Angeles became the largest city in the U.S. to apologize for its past atrocities, particularly a mass lynching that killed 19 Chinese immigrants.

The apology: Speaking at an event outside the Chinese American Museum in downtown L.A., Mayor Eric Garcetti apologized for the “unchecked violence” that took the lives of over a dozen Chinese residents in the city around 150 years ago, according to LAist. Wreaths with black ribbons bearing the names of the victims were also present during the event.

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  • “It meant a lot today for you to say those words,” Chinese American Museum Board President Gay Yuen said as she took the podium.

  • “I think it's just significant for people to admit flaws or to admit mistakes and that they are going to take steps to correct that problem," Eugene Moy, a member of the 1871 Memorial Steering Committee, said. Moy added that it is crucial for other city officials to remember and acknowledge the massacre, which he described as the “harbinger of other anti-Asian attacks and laws.”

  • Garcetti pledged to have a memorial built, even after he no longer works as mayor, in honor of the victims. President Biden nominated Garcetti to serve as ambassador to India in July, Associated Press reported.

  • Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, who represents Chinatown, said the state legislature has already reserved a $2 million budget for the construction of a memorial garden at the Chinese American Museum. In addition to these funds, city officials have also allotted $250,000 for “a design competition for a memorial to the massacre victims, as well as the resources of the Civic Memory Working Group.” Last week, the 1871 Memorial Steering Committee suggested “a memorial spread across multiple sites” in the city since the massacre’s events took place across several locations, CNN reported. In their proposal, the committee recommended a walking tour or the use of digital technology to educate visitors about the massacre.

What happened: Two opposing factions of L.A.’s small Chinese community got into a gunfight on Oct. 24, 1871, which resulted in the death of a white man who was trying to break up the fight.

  • The city, which only had less than 6,000 residents – 10% of them being Chinese – was infamously known for “lawlessness and vigilantism.” When word got out that a white man had died, around 500 people formed a mob and began hunting down Chinese men, burning their homes and killing them.

  • Michael Woo, the first Asian American elected to the Los Angeles Council in 1985, said the massacre was never taught at school and was never included in history books.

  • “It was shocking," Woo told CNN. “It had a huge effect on me because I couldn't figure out why I'd never heard about it."

Los Angeles is the latest city to apologize for its historical anti-Chinese racism after San Jose issued a formal apology to its Chinese community in September.

Featured Image via Chinese American Museum

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