To our members and followers:
As I observe the people in my community trying to cope with the challenges the COVID-19 Pandemic has imposed into all our lives, I see how it has taken a toll on everyone’s spirit and dispositions. With the implementation of government mandated social distancing, stay at home orders and the shutdown of businesses, underlying tension and struggles in everyone’s daily life have become more visible. I am reading online, more and more reported incidents of violence towards members of our Asian communities across the country. As I read of escalating reported incidents of crime and violence directed at Asians in our community, I cannot help but to remember the history of acts of violence towards targeted ethnic minorities for the purpose of spuriously assigning blame for whatever political strife is happening at that particular time.
“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” – Made popular by Winston Churchill, but originally written by George Santayana in 1905 – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In either version, the words are pointedly relevant to what we are experiencing during these trying times, and more so for all of my friends and family living in the State of Washington and especially in Tacoma. The city of Tacoma has already endured a terrible act of racism that was named The Tacoma Method.
During the depression of the 1880s, the country was enduring a period of unrest and uncertainty; jobs were disappearing and food and the necessities becoming more scarce. As jobs became more scarce, the Chinese were blamed for taking work from ‘Americans’, even though the jobs the Chinese held were not jobs that other members of the community even wanted, like doing laundry, working at the canneries, and laying railroads. When people started becoming ill in the community, the Chinese were blamed for bringing illnesses into their community just because they were different.
In the City of Tacoma in 1885, prominent members of the community in cooperation with the local government were working to perpetuate political strife and forcibly remove the remaining Chinese from the city. What was even more appalling about this attack on the Chinese community was that the violence was led by local leaders, including the mayor and the police chief. This act of racist violence, directed at the Tacoma Chinese in 1885, was termed the Tacoma Method.
In 1882, the United States Government had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Because the climate of the country was in such unrest and uncertainty, this gave local governments across America the approval to freely remove Chinese from their communities. In 1885, as tensions got higher and unrest increased across the country, local government leaders began to champion the removal of Chinese under the guise of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act, initiated by the highest levels of the United States Government, made it very easy for local governments to carry out the expulsion of Chinese from within their communities. This enabled and led to the Tacoma Method, and resulted in a dark stain on the history of the City of Tacoma.
Sadly, I am seeing an eerie resemblance to the past as the quarantine for the COVID-19 Pandemic stretches into more days and businesses are closed even longer. More and more people are losing their jobs and the fear of food and supply shortages is resulting in the increase of irrational behavior, and is starting to show itself on the television, social media and our physical environment.
Despite my adolescent efforts, I remember, every now and then in my childhood, how I was reminded by someone or some incident, that I was different. I remember playing baseball in a little league game, and when I was at bat, hearing the father of the pitcher yell out, “Strike that Chink Out!” I remember the coach and his wife comforting me after the game, asking me if I was ok. I recall that I was not even upset or emotional about what this man had said. They explained to me, a young child at the time, what this racist word meant. I have heard this word many more times as I grew into adulthood – as I got older the meaning became more hurtful and painful.
I wish I could say the attacks ended, that as an adult I have never experienced any racism or personal attacks purely because I was Chinese, but I cannot. I have experienced racist attacks at the violent level of having bottles thrown at me as I stood at a public bus stop. The attackers were in the back of an open truck bed, yelling at me to “go back where you came from,” while they pitched the glass missiles at my body. More passive but much more painful attacks have included people approaching me to tell me to, “stay with your own kind” as I walked down the street holding hands with a blond, blue-eyed young lady.
And now the attacks have a new catalyst, and during this COVID-19 Pandemic I have found myself the target of virus related racial attacks. Standing at a local market (wearing my mask) I heard a very loud and deliberate coughing coming from behind me. When it persisted and became louder, I turned to see a man standing about twenty feet from me coughing directly towards me to get my attention. When he saw that I acknowledged his coughing, he angrily and aggressively tells me, “I’m just giving it back to you since you brought it to this country!”
As much as I have tried to belong, to be an American, these incidents remind me that my desire to be part of the social fabric of America is always going to be conditional on the acceptance of others.
As a board member of the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation I share my story to plead with all who may read this to help stop the senseless violence directed toward the Asian members of our community. If we do not stand up and voice our protest regarding this violence and overt racism, and instead listen to the uneducated and incendiary remarks made by some leaders of our country, we may see a repeat of The Chinese Exclusion Act, something we at the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation work hard to make sure never happens again.
When one is scared and fears the unknown, it becomes easy to target and blame a specific ethnicity or culture for what is happening. I challenge everyone to work harder for truth, to stand up for what is right, to call out and voice concern, and to stand in solidarity with all members of your community, no matter their ethnicity, background, or station in life. Racism, violence, and fear are not core values we want to build, support, or see in our community – as a people we stand for reconciliation, equality, understanding, and empathy.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou
Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation