Los Angeles to Memorialize 1871 Anti-Chinese MassacreBreaking News
tags: racism, immigration, Los Angeles, Chinese Americans, Nativism, Asian American History
Their lives were taken swiftly and with indifference. At least 18 Chinese people, including a teenage boy, forging their way in a Los Angeles that was as rough as it was full of promise — all shot or hanged. The slayings snuffed out a significant swath of a tiny Chinese community.
The October 1871 killings were the work of a mob of hundreds in part seeking vengeance for the death of a white man. An article published in The New York Times a few weeks later noted that “Chinese were hauled from their hiding places and forced into the street where the unfortunates were instantly seized by others outside, and ropes quickly encircled their necks.”
Commemorations of the massacre eventually shifted to the shadows. Today the killings and the victims are not widely known nor treated as essential to American history.
But the city of Los Angeles is reconciling with its past and is now awaiting ideas for a memorial, one that might draw more attention than the small plaque tucked into the sidewalk near the Chinese American Museum downtown.
The timing feels both opportune and overdue. The resentment and hostility that most likely simmered in plain sight more than 150 years ago echoes within the violence currently playing out against victims of Asian descent.
I wanted to understand what value a memorial might offer so long after the fact and how it could influence the narrative. I spoke to Annie Chu, a veteran architect and interior designer who has worked with numerous museums and was on the memorial steering committee. She herself learned of the massacre only recently despite living in Los Angeles since 1990. Its invisibility was frustrating, but she was encouraged by the anecdotes of those who had offered shelter at the time — the worst of humanity calling forth the best.
Chu, 63, said the committee studied other memorials and what made them work, such as a specific location or details like victims’ names or something more abstract.
“They’re usually providing some kind of spatial experience, whether it envelops you or brings you into the space in a different way,” she said. “Your body is involved, your senses are involved. That’s why the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was so effective, because of the descending into the earth where, by the time you get way down, you’re buried in there and that journey gives you time to almost decompress.”
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