Joined by representatives of Chinese and Asian American organizations in Bay Area, State Controller Yee; APAPA donates $10,000 for exhibit at Antioch Historical Society museum
“It took 145 years to come to this day, to come to this reconciliation.” – Betty Yee, California State Controller
By Allen Payton
During a ceremony in what was once the location of Antioch’s Chinatown, Wednesday morning, June 17, 2021, Mayor Lamar Thorpe and council members signed the resolution they adopted in May, apologizing for the city’s residents for their racism against Chinese immigrants in the late 1800’s. That included the burning down of the city’s Chinatown in 1876.
During the May 18, 2021 meeting, the council voted 5-0 to pass the resolution entitled “Resolution of the city council of the City of Antioch apologizing to early Chinese immigrants and their descendants for acts of fundamental injustice, seeking forgiveness and committing to rectification of past misdeeds.” (See related articles here and here)
The council members were joined by representatives of Bay Area Chinese and Asian American organizations, as well as State Controller Betty Yee who participated by Zoom. The signed resolutions were presented to each.
Yee was the keynote speaker, noting the fact that her parents are from the same Guangdong Province in China as were many of Antioch’s Chinese residents of the 1800’s.
Thorpe welcomed those in attendance “to the new Antioch, where opportunity lives for all of the world’s people, cultures, and more.”
“I know for some cultures and ethnic groups Antioch hasn’t always been a place of opportunity, hasn’t always been a place of open arms, and hasn’t always been a place of acceptance. And, we still fight through some of those issues today,” he continued. “But as we mature as a city, we gain perspective, build understanding, and, most importantly, increase our capacity to seek forgiveness.”
“Today, we ceremoniously begin that process of reconciliation with our early Chinese American residents, their descendants, and the larger AAPI community for our past misdeeds that helped build a culture in our country that led to the rise in hate crimes stemming from the COVID 19 pandemic,” Thorpe stated. “Like the ending of the pandemic, today, we, the City of Antioch, take our dose of humility by acknowledging our troubled past and seeking forgiveness.”
“I recognize there are many groups in our community who are just as deserving of an apology from their local, state and national government. I know, I am a member of such groups,” the mayor shared. “However, given the national awakening that has spun out of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander hate, it’s critically important that we do this, now.”
Contra Costa Community College District Board President Andy Li, the first Asian American elected to the board, spoke next, thanking the mayor and council for their action “to make Antioch the first to apologize to early Chinese immigrants. Today is an historic day…for the resolution to be signed. I hope our ancestors in heaven can now rest in peace.”
“It sends a very clear message to the people of the United States that this is a country for all,” he continued. “145 years have passed, and the lives of Chinese Americans have improved. But today…we are told to go back to our country. Let’s be clear. This is my country.”
Li then cited the pledge of allegiance.
Edward Tepporn of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation said, “what happened in Antioch happened in other cities across the country.”
He spoke of how Chinese immigrants were treated differently than other immigrants, with many having to strip naked and answer hundreds of questions.
“Today, we add Mayor Lamar Thorpe and the City of Antioch to the list of those shining bright and standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity,” Tepporn added.
Thorpe, who was joined by Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson, District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker and District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica, then said, “I thought I would have the other council members who voted for the resolution sign it.”
He shared that District 3 Councilwoman “Lori Ogorchock couldn’t be here. Her grandson is visiting so, her time is tied up.”
“We have made commitments to fund the Antioch Historical Society and to designate this area as Antioch’ historic Chinatown,” Thorpe shared, speaking of Waldie Plaza in the city’s historic Rivertown District, where the ceremony was held.
Thorpe Reads Resolution, Representative Bows
As Thorpe read the resolution, Douglas Hsia of the Locke Foundation in the California Delta bowed his head in a sign of reverence and respect.
RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ANTIOCH APOLOGIZING TO EARLY CHINESE IMMIGRANTS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS FOR ACTS OF FUNDAMENTIAL INJUSTICE, SEEKING FORGIVENESS AND COMMITTING TO RECTIFICATION OF PAST MISDEEDS
WHEREAS, on January 24, 1848, gold was discovered in Alta California, Mex(ico) and by 1849, people were coming to the region from all over the world to look for gold;
WHEREAS, the Gold Rush caused a huge increase in the population by migrants from the eastern United States and other parts of the world including China;
WHEREAS, between 1849 and 1853 about 24,000 young Chinese men immigrated to Alta California, Mex(ico) (which in 1850 became the United States, State of California) and by 1870 there were an estimated 63,000 Chinese in the United States, 77% of whom resided in California;
WHEREAS, many Chinese immigrants were met with racism, scapegoating and anti-Chinese sentiment also known as xenophobia, which was at its highest between 1850 and 1870;
WHEREAS, Antioch in its early years was not exempt from xenophobia;
WHEREAS, this period in Antioch’s history, like in most of America, is now known as the “The Driving Out” with forced removals of Chinese immigrants;
WHEREAS, during “The Driving Out” period, Antioch officially became a “Sundown Town” when it banned Chinese residents from walking city streets after sunset;
WHEREAS, in order to get from their jobs to their homes each evening, these Chinese residents built a series of tunnels connecting the business district to where I Street met the waterfront;
WHEREAS, in 1876 Chinese residents were told by white mobs that they had until 3 p.m. to leave Antioch— no exceptions;
WHEREAS, after Chinese residents were forced out, Chinatown was burned to the ground and Antioch made headline news: “The Caucasian torch,” wrote the Sacramento Bee, “lighted the way of the heathen out of the wilderness,” and “The actions of the citizens of this place will, without doubt, meet with the hearty approval of every man, woman and child on the Pacific coast” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle;
WHEREAS, Antioch’s early period helped negatively contribute to the Nation’s xenophobic discourse, which led to legal discrimination in public policy with the establishment of the Chinese Exclusion Act;
WHEREAS, the system of “The Driving Out” and the visceral racism against persons of Chinese descent upon which it depended became entrenched in the City’s, the State’s and the Nation’s social fabric;
WHEREAS, the story of Chinese immigrants and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of Antioch’s history;
WHEREAS, the City of Antioch must acknowledge that the legacy of early Chinese immigrants and Xenophobia are part of our collective consciousness that helps contribute to the current anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander hate;
WHEREAS, a genuine apology and seeking forgiveness are an important and necessary first step in the process of racial reconciliation;
WHEREAS, an apology for dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but admission of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help confront the ghosts of the City’s past;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of Antioch:
1) Apologizes to all early Chinese immigrants and their descendants who came to Antioch and were unwelcome;
2) Seeks forgiveness for acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty, and brutality; and
3) Expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against early Chinese immigrant under, before and during “The Driving Out.”
* * * * * * * * *
I HEREBY CERTIFY that the foregoing resolution was passed and adopted by the City Council of the City of Antioch at a special meeting thereof, held on the 18th day of May, 2021 by the following vote:
Council Members Sign Copies of Resolution
The mayor and council members then signed eight copies of the resolution which were presented to representatives of each of the organizations in attendance, including Tepporn, Hsia, Justin Hoover, Executive Director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, C.C. and Regina Yin, and Joel Wong of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA), as well as Hans Ho and Linda Walgren of the Antioch Historical Society.
“I just want to say how important it is to have solidarity with other groups…to be with this amazing event today to honor those who were wronged,” Hoover shared. He then thanked the mayor and council for the resolution.
Walgren, Secretary of the Board of Directors on behalf of president Dwayne Eubanks spoke next saying, We are interested in all the people’s history in Antioch.”
“I want to thank the mayor and city council for an extremely brave act in signing this proclamation” Ho said as he got choked up and had tears come to his eyes.” It is an uncomfortable part of our history.”
Hsia said he was glad to be part of the ceremony and thought it appropriate his organization was represented since “San Francisco marked the beginning and Locke marks the beginning of the end of the Chinese immigration.”
“I thank Mayor Thorpe,” Hsia continued.” His actions today, have made America better for everyone.”
Yee offered her keynote address for the ceremony saying, “This is such an important, historic day. It is a personally meaningful day for me. I have to harken back to some of the sentiments of the day…which was the anti-Asian sentiment. We are standing locked arm in arm fighting this virus of hate.”
“Today, we’re recognizing the stains of Antioch…and look at how we are going to model reconciliation…so our community can heal from all the dark chapters of the Chinese American experience,” she continued. “The Asian hate, today, has its roots in what happened, here in Antioch.”
“I want to thank the City of Antioch for not just making this a one-day occasion…but that we will be reminded of it in our museums. It’s only through understanding that we truly understand our place in time, today,” Yee stated. “It took 145 years to come to this day, to come to this reconciliation. The number of the resolution, 88 is a very important number in Chinese culture…of good fortune.”
“This is a day of celebration, but a day to remember our work is not done,” she said. “It is so significant when it happens in cities like Antioch. It’s so easy to sweep it under the rug. We know this is a hopeful day of a new chapter of relations.”
“I’m so thankful to be part of this historic day,” said Antioch School Board President Ellie Householder, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies for the event.
APAPA founder C.C. Yin said, “this is a very important historic moment. The first time in California history for a city to stand up.”
He presented the mayor and council members with APAPA logo shirts as gifts, as well as McDonald’s logo hats from he and his wife’s franchise.
He shared that “Regina Yin is donating $10,000 from the APAPA foundation to the City of Antioch.”
“Andy told us to do that,” she said with a smile.
Build a better city like Antioch, a better state, a better America.
“I was very moved by the mayor’s comments,” Regina Yin stated. “This country gave C.C. and me the opportunity to open a McDonald’s franchise. I have had the opportunity to open a business and to give back.”
She thanked the mayor for “A sincere apology.”
“Sixty years ago I came as an immigrant,” C.C. Yin stated. “This is our country. We love it. We have fulfilled our dreams ten times. The past is learning for tomorrow. We have double responsibility to build a better country, a better government. Antioch…this is what I call American spirit.”
Street Renaming and Reparations
Asked about the idea of renaming First Street to Chinatown Way, as proposed by a Rivertown business owner, Thorpe said he was not familiar with that but the council would consider it.
Asked about reparations for the descendants of the property owners who were burned out, and if there had been any research done on that, yet, he said “we are working with City Manager Ron Bernal and the historical society in the process of securing a consultant.”