By Bill Evans
Board Member, Sister Cities International
Be sure to visit Chinese Reconciliation Park when you’re in the Old Town neighborhood of Tacoma. It’s a beautiful little park only 100 feet from where Chinese laborers worked in a lumber mill in 1885. The park is also within a half-mile from where many of Tacoma’s Chinese citizens lived in a settlement called Little Canton.
But there’s way more history to the story than that. To understand the whole story of Tacoma’s Chinese population, you have to go back many years to the time when the Northern Pacific Railroad line was scheduled to be built to Tacoma. The city had been chosen as the terminus of the transcontinental railroad in the north. Workers were needed, in Washington State, to build the railroad. Almost 25 years before, thousands of Chinese laborers had been brought to California from China to complete the building of the Central Pacific Railroad in that state. However, when work was completed there, state legislation was enacted to force the Chinese to leave. That was when several thousand came north to help build the railroad in Washington State. But in 1885, the railroad had been completed and many people wanted the Chinese expelled from Washington. They wanted the Chinese gone and expulsion was decreed by the mayor of Tacoma, his council and many Tacoma citizens.
Fearing for their lives, 500 Chinese left Tacoma almost immediately while 200 Chinese remained in the city. However, the lives of those 200 Chinese immigrants changed dramatically on a cold, rainy and windy day on Nov. 3, 1885. That was one of the darkest days in Tacoma’s history. The Chinese were gathered together, young and old, and marched for miles down Pacific Avenue out of town to a railroad station in Lakeview. The majority were put in boxcars and shipped to Portland. Lum May, a Chinese businessman, is recorded as saying: “It was a sad spectacle.” Tragically, what happened that day has been referred to in history as “The Tacoma Method.”
The city lost hardworking citizens who could have contributed much to the economy. It was 35 years later, 1920, before any Chinese would return to Tacoma. To this day, Tacoma is one of the largest cities on the West Coast of the United States that does not have a Chinatown.
So, now, where from here? Well, Tacoma citizens have worked very hard for more than 30 years to “make things right.” Chinese Reconciliation Park is one of many public initiatives that are going forward in the city. One of the many wonderful things about this little park is that it contains a Ting, a “Resting Place,” a gift from Tacoma’s Sister City of Fuzhou, China. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of a Sister City agreement between the two cities. A Sister Cities motto, “Peace Through People,” has been put into practice. The park has also become the site of a greatly attended event that is celebrated annually, the Tacoma Moon Festival.
Theresa Pan, president of Tacoma’s Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, has wisely stated: “Our hope is to use the tools we have to learn from our history and embrace reconciliation and unity. This is your park, so please come enjoy the view, the Ting and the NEW ‘Tacoma Method’ of INCLUSION as often as you can.”
Moon Festival offers fun and learning for families
Sat., Sept. 21, 1-7 p.m. at Chinese Reconciliation Park, 1741 N. Shuster Pkwy.
The Tacoma Moon Festival is an annual celebration of the rich diversity of culture in Tacoma today, brought here by our immigrant communities over the 150 years of the city’s history.
This year, special focus is placed upon China, as the City of Tacoma celebrates “Fuzhou Day” in honor of the 25th anniversary of its Sister City relationship with the Chinese city of Fuzhou. Special performers from Fuzhou will perform on the “Fuzhou Ting” stage, as well as professional instrumentalists from the Seattle Chinese Orchestra, and a performance of Beijing Opera by Seattle’s Hwa Sheng Chinese Opera Club.
Additionally, the stage will host splendid Mexican dance from Seattle’s Bailadores de Bronce, Zimbabwean Marimba music from Jekesa Marimba, the Chief Leschi Drum and Dance Group, and music and dance of the Pacific Islands from Lanuola Samoan Performing Arts Academy.
Food will be available through a number of food trucks, and the Moon Festival’s own stand will offer moon cake sampling and a great variety of traditional treats for sale. A wine and beer garden with local craft libations will be available for adults, and a hands-on crafts booth for all ages. Festival-goers can browse among different vendors and info booths, attend tea presentations, watch calligraphers paint paper fans, and observe Chinese opera performers putting on elaborate makeup.
As the festival closes at 7 p.m., a parade of lanterns will be led by the Moon Princess – always a great photo op for parents with kids. The Moon Festival is a family event, so bring the kids and grand kids!
The 7th annual Tacoma Moon Festival would not be possible without community support. The festival annually draws large crowds of attendees from all over the Puget Sound area, and with the event remaining admission free this year, more are expected to attend. Major event sponsors and supporters include Annie Wright Schools, Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, City of Fuzhou, City of Tacoma, Dr. Zhen Ge and Lucy Zhou, Gottfried and Mary Fuchs Foundation, IBEW Local 76, KBTC Public Television, Pacific Northwest Shop and Proctor Mercantile, Tacoma Arts Commission, Tangram Design, University of Puget Sound Asian Studies Program.