California’s Santa Ana is drafting a formal apology for the burning of its Chinatown in 1906.
Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Planning Commissioner Alan Woo, Assistant City Manager Steven Mendoza and Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan are working on the apology for Chinese immigrants and their descendants for the “systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia and discrimination” of the past.
As part of their atonement, the city will be naming previous officials as responsible for the destruction, which they described as an act of “fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty and brutality.” In the 1890s, about 200 Chinese residents lived in what was once Santa Ana’s Chinatown. The area now spans Busch Street, Third Street and Main Street.
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By early 1906, only about 15 residents were left after officials declared the neighborhood a public hazard.
The city alleged that a male resident named Wong Woh Ye contracted leprosy and subsequently ordered the local fire department to burn Chinatown. More than 1,000 people attended to cheer on the firefighters tasked to burn the buildings down.
The destruction is seen as an effort to remove Chinese residents following the city’s purchase of a lot around the area in 1904 to build a new city hall.
“The people’s democracy was used against Chinese Americans,” Woo told the Los Angeles Times. “That deserves an apology. The lives of over 200 Chinese immigrants were affected by that decision.”
The supportive council members are also planning to commemorate the history by allocating funds from the city’s budget for an on-site memorial.
“We just want to do what’s right and recognize past wrongs,” Thai Viet Phan, Santa Ana’s first Vietnamese American councilwoman, said. “I felt it was really important to me as someone who is trying to do my best to revitalize our Asian American heritage in the city.”