Dragon Mural to Help Restore Chinese History Erased in Washington

Dragon Mural to Help Restore Chinese History Erased in Washington
Carl Samson
July 8, 2019
A local artist in Olympia, Washington received the green light to paint a dragon mural commemorating the Chinatown that once thrived in her area.
Speaking to NextShark, the artist, who goes by the username @greasy.goldflower on Instagram, described her town as predominantly White, adding that the Chinatown never made it to history books.
Image via Instagram / @greasy.goldflower
“My hometown just approved of a proposed dragon mural [that] I’m painting to commemorate the Chinatown that was driven out in the 1920s,” @greasy.goldflower said. “It’s not written in any of the history books.”
In her proposal, she described the dragon as a “silhouette” representing “a ghost of the past strength, intention and motion of Chinese immigrants who left their homes, crossed the widest ocean, and came to this place for a better life.”
Image via Instagram / @greasy.goldflower
According to the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum, three places served as “main Chinese quarters” in the city over the years.
The Chinatowns, which date back from the 1850s, died slowly in the following decades as the local Chinese population dwindled, partly due to restrictive immigration laws that prevented newcomers from replacing an aging community.
Image via Instagram / @greasy.goldflower
By the early 1940s, stores on Water Street — the third and final location of the city’s Chinatown — no longer operated. The fire department deemed them hazardous and eventually razed them in 1943, the same year the government repealed Chinese exclusion laws.
“This is where they built a community,” @greasy.goldflower said. “This is where they built laundries to wash other people’s clothes, gardens and restaurants to feed them, bars where all could relax at the end of a long day.”
From left to right: (1) “Chinese boarding house,” (2) Hong Yek Kee and Co. Import Mercantile and Labor Contracting and (3) Kwong Hong Yick Laundry. These buildings are three of five that composed Olympia’s Chinatown in 1902. Image via National Archives and Records Administration
“That was the immigrant experience brought to Olympia in the 19th century not by White settlers, but by people who spoke a different language, had a different history, and had different eyes, skin, hair,” the artist, a new immigrant herself, continued.
“As a new immigrant, I hear the echo of their experiences; I feel it in my bones. I share their gratitude for finding a home here. Like them, I have been welcomed by some, but felt the sting of prejudice and rejection. I share their sorrow for the displacement of community that thrived here starting in the 1880s, and was dispersed in the late 1920s. “
@greasy.goldflower hopes that her mural will help pave the way to resurrect the city’s Chinatown.
“What surrounds the incorporeal dragon are layers of meaning, of complicated lives, of the struggle and survival of people who persisted, survived, and left descendants in our midst. This mural is a tribute to them; a remembrance that mourns the absence of their lost community here, and honors their bravery.”
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