Frank Girardot: Rep. Judy Chu gets Congress to apologize for 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act
Posted: 06/13/2012 08:11:43 PM PDT http://www.sgvtribune.com
In the last half of the 19th Century the narrow, cobblestone-lined street that radiates south from La Plaza and dead ends at a wrought iron gate just north of the Hollywood Freeway was called Calle de Los Negros.
Historians tell us that at any hour of the day the calle - on the western edge of Los Angeles' first Chinatown - was the place to find booze, broads, opium or cards.
In his book "The Herald's History of Los Angeles" written in 1901, Charles Dwight Willard described that period of time as "Los Angeles at its worst."
It was a remembrance of that era Wednesday that brought Rep. Judy Chu, D-El Monte, to North Los Angeles Street to make a historic announcement.
Namely, that the United States Congress would formally issue its regrets for a xenophobic period in U.S. history that resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Signed into law by President Chester Arthur, the bill prevented Chinese immigration to the U.S. and excluded Chinese residing in the states from becoming citizens.
Anti-Chinese sentiment really began during an economic depression in the 1870s. California politicians blamed Chinese workers for low wages and lack of work.
On Oct. 24, 1871, the hatred and reactionary ill-will boiled over on Calle de los Negros.
"The most terrible page in this dark chapter of the city's history is that on which is recorded the massacre of the Chinamen," Willard wrote. "It is hard to understand how only thirty years ago such a horrible outrage came to be committed in the city."
The riot began with the shooting death of a man identified as Robert Thompson.
Whites living outside the plaza blamed warring Chinese tongs for Thompson's death and went on a rampage. One group hanged eight Chinese men outside a corral on New High Street. Another looted and burned shops. Chinese residents of the area who ventured out in public were "hung or shot" on sight Willard wrote.
"Two of the victims were very young boys, and one, an old physician, a man of good education, who begged for his life offered over $2,000 to those who captured him," Willard continued. "The money was taken, but he was hanged with the rest."
None of the leaders of the massacre were punished, Chu said in remarks she delivered to a dozen supporters at the site.
"There were in all 19 (Chinese) put to death. Some with great cruelty," Willard wrote. "The affair lasted only about an hour."
The riot was quelled by the sheriff and a posse of men who arrested less than a dozen outlaws. A grand jury indicted 150 rioters. Six were convicted at trial, but released on a technicality days after their sentence was handed down.
Ultimately the mob politics of 1871 led to the sort of codified racism that is hard to imagine today. Thus comes an apology - of sorts.
Expressions of regret don't come easy from the U.S. Congress. There's been only three others.
"This took months and months of negotiations," Chu noted of the bill, which is expected to pass next week. "It is so historic for a generation of our ancestors who were told that the land of the free wasn't open to them, these ugly laws will get an expression of regret by the very body that passed them."
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