More than a hundred protesters gathered at the Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach, California, to denounce the burning of a building that was once part of a historic Japanese American settlement.
Around 150 people attended the “Standup Against Asian Hate Rally” at the Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach on Saturday. The site is one of the oldest Asian American settlements in the country where many Japanese Americans immigrated to beginning in the late 19th century.
Among those who attended the rally was a woman identified as Soon, who was born in Korea but grew up in the Midwest.
“[I] have experienced Asian hate incidents and Asian hate crimes all my life. I’m kind of used to it,” Soon, a victim of an anti-Asian incident last year, told Spectrum News.
The rally was organized to denounce the burning of a Historic Wintersburg building late last month. Many in the community believe the incident was an anti-Asian attack.
The building was a manse built in 1910. Waste and recycling company Republic Services, the current owner of the property, reportedly razed what was left of the burnt structure after the fire department extinguished the flames.
Several civic leaders and organizations have been working on preserving what remains on the historical site which is significant to Asian American history.
Nancy Ukai, the project director of Asian preservationist group 50 Objects, wrote an open letter to the Huntington Beach mayor and its city council calling out the aftermath of the fire.
“The violent bulldozing on Feb. 25, of the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Mission’s manse follows years of anti-Japanese and anti-Asian hate, orchestrated harassment on social media, and threats to preservationists,” Ukai wrote.
In a joint statement on Friday, the Huntington Police and Fire Departments concluded that they “have no reason to believe that the fire was intentionally set. There is no evidence of a hate crime.”
However, the authorities said they will look into a “local known transient” who was reportedly spotted leaving the area after the fire took place. The fire and police departments did not elaborate further on the cause of the fire, but the city said that electricity may have been “illegally diverted onto the property.”
Mary Adams Urashima, a local historian and one of the people spearheading the campaign to make the Historic Wintersburg a historic park, brought up the lack of security at the site, saying, “We believe the question of responsibility for that still remains.”
Various religious leaders founded the Wintersburg Japanese Mission in 1904, four years after the first generation of Japanese immigrants, known as Issei, immigrated to Orange County.
Many Japanese Americans in Orange County were arrested and detained after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, including elders and congregants of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission.