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San Jose apologizes for decades of discrimination against Chinese people

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The city of San Jose, California, this week apologized to Chinese immigrants and their descendants, acknowledging its role in nearly a century of violence and discrimination, including the dismantling and destruction of the city’s Chinatowns.

A resolution passed unanimously by the city council on Tuesday also recognizes the contributions of San Jose’s Chinese community. It also recognizes “acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty and brutality” and wants to use the apology as a teaching moment. Officials in Antioch, California, passed a similar resolution in May.

San Jose was home to five Chinatowns, the first of which flourished on Market Street from 1866 to 1870, when the city was a center for agriculture, the resolution says.

Chinese immigrants faced racism and xenophobia and were not given equal protection under the law. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted Chinese immigration and stated that state and federal courts could not grant citizenship to Chinese immigrants.

When anti-Asian discrimination was institutionalized in the following years, San Jose moved to second Market Street Chinatown to make way for a new city hall. In 1887 the city council declared the neighborhood a “public nuisance” and “dangerous to the health and well-being of all citizens”. City officials at the time also said the Chinatown market was a “permanent threat to both public and private morality, peace, tranquility and good order.”

Before action could be taken, an arson attack destroyed the market, homes and businesses, displacing 1,400 members of the Chinese community. A request for permits for reconstruction was declared out of order by the mayor.

In 1949, the city demolished the Ng Shing Gung Temple, the last remnant of Heinlenville’s Chinatown, due to objections from historians and Chinese American residents. The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project built a replica of the temple, with exhibits on Chinese-American history in the Santa Clara Valley, and donated it to the city in 1991 as a token of friendship and forgiveness.

The apology resolution was drafted after a recent series of hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans in the city and country that sparked discussions among city officials, Raul Peralez, a city council member, said before the vote on Tuesday. Peralez said the resolution was a “profound moment” for the Chinese community and the city.

The passing of the resolution, which appeared to have met no appreciable opposition in the city, was an opportunity for the council to “speak personally with our Chinese community,” Mr. Peralez said, and “sorry our community for what they are doing.” endured, and that we are committed to continuing to build a better future for all immigrants here in San Jose.”

Peralez and other city officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Connie Young Yu, a historian and a descendant of residents of two of San Jose’s Chinatowns, shared her personal connection to the resolution at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“My grandfather never expressed his bitterness for the hardships he and his relatives suffered during and because of the Market Street fire,” said Ms. Yu, “but I felt all these years anger, a nagging sense of injustice, and something that hitherto was unresolved.”

The city held a ceremony on Wednesday to acknowledge the apologies. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told KNTV it was “important for every generation to stand up and recognize the darkest parts of our collective history.”

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