California Cities Apologize for Historical Wrongs Against Chinese Community

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Pedestrians walk along Grant Avenue on March 08, 2021 in the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Across California, cities are reckoning with their historical legacies of racism towards the Chinese community. In May, Antioch became the first city to issue a formal apology for its anti-Chinese policies and the mob-led destruction of its Chinatown in 1876. This month, San Jose followed with a similar apology for enforcing anti-Chinese policies and fomenting racial hatred that resulted in the obliteration by fire of its Chinatown, once one of the largest in California, in 1887. For many Californians, the scope of violence towards Chinese immigrants is history they have never learned. For descendants of these settlers, the stories are not just history, but a sorrowful legacy that continues to impact their lives. We talk about why these apologies are happening now, and whether saying sorry is enough to right past wrongs.


Connie Young Yu, author of "Chinatown, San Jose, U.S.A." and the documentary "Digging to Chinatown." Yu's grandfather was a resident of the Market Street Chinatown destroyed by arson, and Yu worked with the City of San Jose, providing historical input for the City Council's Apology for racist acts toward Chinese immigrants.

Lamar Thorpe, mayor, Antoich

Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies, San Francisco State University; co-founder of Stop AAIP Hate, which tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in California.

Beth Lew-Williams, associate professor of history, Princeton University. She is the author of "The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America."