May 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

California city apologizes for history of hate against early Chinese immigrants

Photo of the Antioch mayor holding up a proclamation apologizing for Antioch's early treatment of Chinese residents

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe (right) and Andrew Li (left), president of the Contra Costa community college board, holding a proclamation apologizing for the city’s treatment of early Chinese residents. Photo: KTVU

A California city has formally apologized to early Chinese immigrants and their descendants for the historic injustices suffered at the hands of Antioch's founding community.

Why it matters: A rise in anti-Asian hate has focused attention on the United States' legacy of racism against Asian Americans. The treatment of Asian Americans today is directly connected to those early years, Antioch Mayor Lamar A. Thorpe said.

Background: Chinese who immigrated to California in the 19th century repeatedly faced racism, scapegoating and xenophobia, which the city says was at its peak between 1850 and 1870.

  • During that period, Antioch officially became a "sundown town," banning Chinese residents from walking city streets after sunset.
    • To commute between work and home, Chinese residents built a series of tunnels connecting the business district to their homes.
  • Like most of U.S., Antioch participated in "The Driving Out" and forcibly removed Chinese residents. On one particular day in 1876, white mobs gave Chinese residents until 3 p.m. to leave the city before burning Chinatown to the ground — "no exceptions," the city said.

What they're saying: "[T]he 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," the city said in its resolution.

  • The city also said it "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."
  • Antioch is the first city in the U.S. to officially apologize for mistreatment of Chinese people, Thorpe said in a news conference last month.

Of note: Mexico's president also issued a formal apology this week for a 1911 massacre in which revolutionary troops slaughtered over 300 Chinese people, AP reports.

Go deeper: The centuries-long history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

Go deeper