'Accountability helps to heal': SJ to apologize to Chinese community for centuries-old atrocities

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Throughout history, the City of San Jose was home to a total of five Chinatowns.

According to a city memo, the first Chinatown in San Jose was established in 1866 by the flourishing Chinese community in the city.

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"Over the next 65 years, San José would be home to a total of five Chinatowns, including the first Market Street Chinatown (1866-1870), the Vine Street Chinatown (1870-1872), the Second Market Street Chinatown (1872-1887), the Woolen Mills Chinatown (1887-1902), and Heinlenville (1887- 1931)," the memo detailed.

The most well-known was the Second Market Street Chinatown, which happened to be deliberately set on fire in May 1887.

In that tragedy, 1,400 people were believed to be displaced and were given no option to rebuild.

"The city said, 'No. It's a vile community and we don't want it downtown,'" Gerrye Wong with the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project told ABC7 News.

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Next Tuesday, present-day San Jose City leaders are expected to pass a resolution asking for forgiveness, apologizing for the city's role in past atrocities.

Wong said even centuries later, the AAPI Community is finding itself in another stretch of anti-Asian hate. She commends today's city leaders for stepping up.

"With the environment that we're seeing today, this is an important step," she shared. "To acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but trying to see if we could move forward."

Assemblymember Evan Low added, "We need to also recognize that accountability helps to heal these wounds."

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He said it's an important part of growing in a multicultural society like today's San Jose.

"It's so critical that we learn and know about our history and help further the education for our community," he continued.

The city's initiative is being led by Councilman Raul Peralez. ABC7 News reached out to his office, but the councilman was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

Councilmembers will vote on the resolution at Tuesday's council meeting, addressing Chinese immigrants and their descendants.

"It's appropriate that every generation, we do this," Mayor Sam Liccardo shared. "That we remember this. Because tragically, these lessons are lost from one generation to another. And even more tragically, history does repeat itself."

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At the former Fairmont Hotel, which was the site of the Second Market Street Chinatown, there is a plaque commemorating the tragedy. It was dedicated in 1987, 100 years later.

"I was just talking with Mayor Tom McEnery," Liccardo added. "Who said that they issued an apology in 1987, when that plaque was placed there commemorating the loss of Chinatown and the horrible destruction of that community."

Wong said the plaque is an awakening for her.

According to a city memo, "Though the plaque acknowledges the former location of a large Chinatown in that spot, destroyed a century earlier, there has been no formal accountability for the City of San José's anti-Chinese policies of the era that created the incendiary climate which led to the arson nor for the numerous actions over many decades which actively discriminated against Chinese immigrants and their descendants."

"This action is intended to help reaffirm the City of San José's commitment to the rectification of past policies and misdeeds and publicly acknowledge the City's role in acts of historic injustice towards the community," the memo concluded, in-part.

Following Tuesday's city council meeting, a special ceremony is planned for Wednesday at the Circle of Palms Plaza in Downtown San Jose. Wong and other prominent Chinese community leaders are expected to attend, acknowledge and accepting the city's apology.

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