East Bay city first to formally apologize to Chinese, AAPI for past wrongs

ANTIOCH — Standing at the site of Antioch’s former Chinatown, Mayor Lamar Thorpe and council members on Thursday signed the nation’s first apology to the Chinese and AAPI, seeking forgiveness for past misdeeds committed against early Chinese immigrants.

“Welcome to a new Antioch where opportunities live for all of the world’s people and cultures,” Thorpe said in his opening remarks at Waldie Plaza, acknowledging some ethnic groups haven’t always been welcome.

“Today, we ceremoniously begin the process of reconciliation with our early Chinese American residents, their descendents, and the larger AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community for past misdeeds that helped contribute to build a culture in our country that led to the rise in hate crimes, stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Thorpe first advanced the idea of a formal apology to the Chinese — something no other city has ever done — during a news conference in April in downtown’s Waldie Plaza, where Chinese immigrants were driven out and their homes torched in 1876. Council members later approved the resolution, which members signed at a ceremony Thursday.

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe celebrates after being told by California State Controller Betty Yee that the resolution apologizing for previous misdeeds and harm to the city’s early Chinese immigrants was number 88 and symbolized fortune and good luck in Chinese culture during an event in Antioch on Thursday. (Doug Duran/Staff) 

“Today, we, as the city of Antioch, take a dose of humility by acknowledging our troubled past and seeking forgiveness, recognizing there are many groups in our community who are just as deserving as an apology from their local, state, national government,” the mayor said. “However, given the national awakening that has spun out of the anti-Asian American Pacific Islander hate, it’s critically important that we do this here.”

Antioch had never acknowledged its past as a sundown town where Chinese were banned from walking the streets after dark. Remnants of tunnels they built to connect to businesses and their homes can still be seen in some spots downtown from I Street to the waterfront.

Thorpe and others on Thursday also acknowledged the role that the Black Lives Matter movement played in encouraging people to stand up for their rights.

“We will no longer be shy, we will no longer be embarrassed or uncomfortable with making other people feel uncomfortable with their personal issues,” he said. “And so, I want to acknowledge that movement, because it wouldn’t have built the framework for political leaders such as ourselves, to even be standing here, being unapologetic about apologizing to people who have been done wrong.”

Keynote speaker State Comptroller Betty T. Yee, speaking via Zoom, also acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I was heartened by the fact that really for the first time in our history we’re seeing multi- generations of Chinese Americans, of Asian Americans, finally coming out being visible to say we will not tolerate this,” she said. “And, but for the courage of those who have been protesting, who’ve been taken to the streets, have talked about how we need to stand together, an ally ship in solidarity, to beat back as survivors of hate and discrimination.”

It’s important to recognize Antioch’s “stains in history,” she said, noting today’s heightened incidences of hate and violence against Asians “have its roots in what happened here.”

“It’s easy to have this disappear from our history books, and yet we are shining light on this, and because we are doing so, there’s so many of you gathered from across all different communities,” she said. “We know that this is a hopeful day, that does begin a new chapter of mutual relations.”

Representatives from several other groups also gave remarks, and accepted copies of the resolution, including the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association, Antioch Historical Society and Museum, Locke Foundation, Chinese American Historical Society of America and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.

“This is an important first step in our collective journeys toward truth, racial healing and reconciliation,” Edward Tepporn of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation said.

“I hope our ancestors can now feel at peace in heaven with this late but still necessary apology,” added Andy Li, president of the Contra Costa Community College Board. “It happened 135 years ago right here in the area where we stand. The resolution sends a very clear message to all the people in the United States that this is a country for all and we have justice for all.”

Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association founders C.C. and Regina Yin not only thanked Antioch, saying it was a perfect example of the American spirit, but showed her spirit as well with a surprise $10,000 donation to the city.

“I want to say thank you to this country that gave me the opportunity,” said Regina Yin, who emigrated as a graduate student from Taiwan and opened a McDonald’s franchise decades ago with her husband. “And I want to thank our ancestors, and value their sacrifice. We cannot forget.”

Antioch has vowed to designate the former Chinatown as a historic Chinese district and plans to help create an exhibit or artwork to tell their story, Thorpe said.

“These are not just empty words,” he said. “These are backed up by actions and I’m very proud of the Antioch City Council for the work that they’re doing.”

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Author: Judith Prieve

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