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[COMMUNITY] Chinese Bigotry Found @ L.A. MTV Excavation Site

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  • madchinaman
    Reminders of Bigotry Unearthed Remains found at an MTA excavation site shed light on a time rife with anti-Chinese bias. By David Pierson, Times Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2006
      Reminders of Bigotry Unearthed
      Remains found at an MTA excavation site shed light on a time rife
      with anti-Chinese bias.
      By David Pierson, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-me-
      chinagrave15mar15,0,6702295,full.story


      -

      Most of the Chinese did not speak English. Politicians and
      newspapers seized on the anti-Chinese sentiments. The Los Angeles
      Times described denizens of the Chinese ghetto as "Celestials" and
      as the "the pig-tainted fraternity."

      "While the Chinaman is a natural-born thief and scoundrel, he is
      also the most superstitious of God's creatures," a Times reporter
      wrote in a breathless 1887 travelogue of the ghetto.

      *

      The document, dated June 19, 1923, is from the superintendent of the
      county Department of Charities, Norman R. Martin, to the secretary
      of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Chan Kai Sing.

      Martin wrote that the potter's field where the Chinese were buried
      was badly crowded.

      "Recently your people established a new Chinese cemetery on East 1st
      Street, and it would be highly desirable if the bodies buried in the
      county cemetery could be transferred to your new location," he said.

      Martin said he wanted the chamber to move the remains and offered
      compensation of $2 per body even after acknowledging that each grave
      cost the Chinese $10. "The idea being that you would move all of the
      bodies as fast as practicable," Martin wrote.

      The letter said there were 902 Chinese buried in the vicinity of
      what is now the MTA excavation site, at Lorena and 1st streets.

      -


      They could not marry, they could not own property, and they
      performed the most undesirable jobs: ditch diggers, canal builders,
      house boys. They were banned from most shops and public institutions
      and were the target of racist violence that went unpunished.

      Los Angeles was home to an estimated 10,000 Chinese in the late 19th
      century — almost all men who came to America to work on the
      railroads and ended up in desperate straits, crowded into a filthy
      Chinese ghetto near what is now Union Station.

      A recent discovery by a new generation of railway workers building
      the extension of the Gold Line commuter rail line through Boyle
      Heights has unearthed this dark but largely forgotten period in Los
      Angeles history.

      Last summer, workers found the skeletal remains of 108 people just
      outside the Evergreen Cemetery, one of the city's oldest and
      grandest burial sites.

      A few weeks ago, the MTA told a community review board, which
      includes members of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern
      California, that the agency's archeological study found that the
      majority of the remains were from people of Asian descent.

      Three-quarters of the remains were adults and most were male. The
      finding supports the belief among Chinese American historians that
      the bones belonged to Chinese male sojourners who died a century ago
      at a time when immigration laws sought to reduce the Chinese
      population by prohibiting Chinese women from entering the country.

      The workers also found rice bowls, jade bracelets, Chinese burial
      bricks, Asian coins and opium pipes.

      Historians have long believed that there was a potter's field for
      Chinese workers in Boyle Heights but did not know precisely where.
      The last known public record of the cemetery was from the 1920s.

      The discovery has generated excitement within the Chinese American
      community along with concern about the way the MTA has handled the
      find.

      Irvin Lai, one of the historical society's longest-serving members,
      said the remains belonged to men who lived at a time when Chinese
      were relegated to the lowest rung of society.

      "They treated the Chinese just as bad when they were dead. They were
      treated like animals," said Lai, 78, who grew up in the pre-civil
      rights era and said the memory of being denied service at
      barbershops or restaurants because of his ethnicity still stings.

      In the late 19th century, racial intolerance toward the Chinese was
      particularly heightened because some whites believed the Chinese
      were taking jobs away from them.

      Most of the Chinese did not speak English. Politicians and
      newspapers seized on the anti-Chinese sentiments. The Los Angeles
      Times described denizens of the Chinese ghetto as "Celestials" and
      as the "the pig-tainted fraternity."

      "While the Chinaman is a natural-born thief and scoundrel, he is
      also the most superstitious of God's creatures," a Times reporter
      wrote in a breathless 1887 travelogue of the ghetto.

      Members of the historical society say they believe the excavation
      site is part of a Chinese cemetery that disappeared sometime after
      the 1920s, when development obscured most of the graves'
      whereabouts. It dates from 1877, when the owners of the nearby
      Evergreen Cemetery gave the city five acres in which to bury
      indigents.

      Chinese were not permitted to be buried in Evergreen Cemetery, where
      some of the city's most prominent early families — such as the Van
      Nuyses, Lankershims, Hollenbecks and Workmans — were laid to rest.
      Chinese were given a corner of the city potter's field next to the
      indigents.

      But unlike the white indigents, who were buried at no charge, the
      Chinese had to pay $10 for a burial, a substantial fee for that era,
      Lai said.

      Lai said he found what could be the last official acknowledgment of
      the Chinese cemetery at the Los Angeles County Hall of Records.

      The document, dated June 19, 1923, is from the superintendent of the
      county Department of Charities, Norman R. Martin, to the secretary
      of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Chan Kai Sing.

      Martin wrote that the potter's field where the Chinese were buried
      was badly crowded.

      "Recently your people established a new Chinese cemetery on East 1st
      Street, and it would be highly desirable if the bodies buried in the
      county cemetery could be transferred to your new location," he said.

      Martin said he wanted the chamber to move the remains and offered
      compensation of $2 per body even after acknowledging that each grave
      cost the Chinese $10. "The idea being that you would move all of the
      bodies as fast as practicable," Martin wrote.

      The letter said there were 902 Chinese buried in the vicinity of
      what is now the MTA excavation site, at Lorena and 1st streets.

      Lai found a list of some of the dead buried at the old Chinese
      cemetery. In cursive writing were hundreds of Chinese names, such as
      Wong Wah Mow, who at 46, was killed after he was "shot in heart" in
      a homicide. Tom Ping, 51, died from opium poisoning. Wah Lee, 51,
      committed suicide by hanging.

      While historians said they hope the find will broaden their
      understanding of the sojourners' lives, some expressed anger at the
      way they learned about it.

      The historical society and other Chinese American community leaders
      have accused the MTA of concealing the fact that the bones were of
      Chinese immigrants for months so that it would not delay the
      extension of the Gold Line, a long-anticipated $898-million project
      that will connect Union Station to East L.A.

      "It's a slap in the face," said Ken Chan, president of the
      historical society. "These men weren't respected when they were
      buried, and it's like they're not being respected now."

      The MTA denies that it held back information. Once it found the
      bones, officials said they shipped them to an archeologist for study.

      They said they found no reason to halt construction after all the
      remains and artifacts had been removed. Once the archeology firm
      concluded the bones could be Chinese, they said they immediately
      informed the historical society.

      MTA officials said that if they had known earlier they were dealing
      with a predominantly Chinese grave site, they would have contacted
      members of the Chinese community, such as the historical society,
      and asked for their help.

      "Everything would have been directed differently if we knew we were
      dealing with a preponderance of Chinese remains" earlier, said Carl
      Ripaldi, the MTA project's environmental specialist. "We realize the
      sensitivity of the issues here. We have to be very sensitive to all
      people, all cultures and customs."

      In recent weeks, the historical society has been helping with the
      identification of some artifacts. It is unlikely it will find
      relatives in the U.S. today because of the prohibition of Chinese
      women during that era.

      "These guys probably had a friend or two bury them," Lai said. "They
      probably threw wine over the grave, burned some incense and paper
      money, and if they were lucky, had a eulogy read with some kind
      words."

      Lai wants the MTA to re-inter the bodies at Evergreen Cemetery — the
      place where at the time of their death they were not allowed to
      enter let alone be buried. That decision will ultimately be up to
      the MTA and the community review board, which includes Lai and Boyle
      Heights residents.

      Lai said: "We need to give them a dignified burial with elected
      officials" present.
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