Bodies of 17 dead Chinese men and boys lie in the Los Angeles jail yard on October 24, 1871
(photo credit: Security Pacific Bank)
This past Sunday, October 24th, marked the 150th anniversary of one of the worst hate crimes against Asians in United States history:
“The 1871 Los Angeles Chinese massacre resulted in the deaths of 18 Chinese men and is believed to be the most lethal example of racial violence ever recorded in the city. It was quickly and eagerly forgotten.
City leaders, embarrassed that the frontier town had made national headlines for violence and lawlessness, built up the police department and tried to restore the rule of law. Eight of the attackers were tried for the crimes but eventually released, and a small indemnity was paid to the Chinese government as an apology. Calle De Los Negros was bulldozed and redeveloped. The Chinese community was rebuilt in a different location.
The Chinese community did not simply accept their fate. They demanded restitution and sued for damages, though unsuccessfully. At least 14 out of 15 total Chinese laundrymen in Los Angeles refused to pay their city business license fees the year after the massacre, in what may be the first example of Chinese American civil disobedience. According to accounts of the time, some Chinese Americans responded by taking even more pride in being Chinese, displaying their culture even more boldly despite the danger.
It took them 10 months, but the few Chinese Americans in Los Angeles at the time raised the $8,000 to pay for proper burial ceremonies — an unimaginable amount of money for a group of poor immigrants at the time.”
Those 18 Chinese men and boys accounted for approximately 10% of the Chinatown back then.
The Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles commemorated this tragic anniversary along with the UCLA Chancellor’s Arts Initiative, UCLA Asian American Center, and UCLA Asia Pacific Center. There were guest speakers and a live performance featuring music and movement. The commemoration took place at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument– the site of Los Angeles’ original Chinatown, where the massacre took place, and is shown in the video embedded below.
Currently, there is only a plaque marking the Chinese Massacre of 1871:
Embedded into the sidewalk on North Los Angeles Street in front of the Chinese American Museum downtown, it is one of several bronze markers the museum installed in 2001 to commemorate key moments of Chinese American history in L.A. English and Chinese text is piled into a square smaller than a pizza box, which requires you to stoop over awkwardly to make out the words. I’ve walked over it dozens of times without noticing it.
The City of Los Angeles is studying and planning on building a monument to commemeorate this event. I’m hoping that something comes of this in the near future.