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California city reckons with Chinatown arson more than 100 years later

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 10:00 AM CDT
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(CNN) - In its history, the city of San Jose has been home to five Chinatowns.

The most well-known was the Second Market Street Chinatown, deliberately set on fire in 1887.

Back then, 1,400 people were displaced and were given no option to rebuild.

“The city said, ‘No, it’s a vile community, and we don’t want it downtown,’” said Gerrye Kee Wong of Chinese Historical and Cultural Project

San Jose leaders are asking for forgiveness, apologizing for the city’s role in past atrocities. The city’s resolution Tuesday will address Chinese immigrants and their descendants.

There will be special ceremony on Wednesday, with prominent Chinese leaders in the community acknowledging and accepting that apology.

Wong said even centuries later, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is finding itself in another stretch of anti-Asian hate, and she commends today’s city leaders for stepping up.

“With the environment that we’re seeing today, this is an important step ... to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but trying to see if we could move forward,” she said.

“We need to also recognize that accountability helps to heal these wounds,” said Assemblymember Evan Low.

It’s an important part of growing in a multicultural society like today’s San Jose.

“It’s appropriate that every generation, we do this ... that we remember this, because tragically, these lessons are lost from one generation to another. And even more tragically, history does repeat itself,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

At the former Fairmont Hotel, which was the site of the Second Market Street Chinatown, there’s a plaque commemorating the tragedy, dedicated 100 years later.

“It was an awakening for me,” Wong said.

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