The Driving Out and the Sacramento Chinese Driven Off Their Home
We All Should Remember
(This is an excerpt from public addresses given from March 17th to April 15th of 2007.)
April 15th is soon approaching. This day is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day set aside for all of us to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the Jewish people who perished. We all must never forget.
But today there is another holocaust most have forgotten. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first U.S. immigration law ever to deny a people solely based on race. This began a chapter of American history as shameful and ignored as any, the "Driving Out."
The constitution of California was rewritten in 1879 against those of "Chinese or Mongolian" ancestry. The legislature delegated "all necessary power" to towns and cities "for the removal of Chinese." The state constitution declared that the Chinese people were "dangerous to the well-being of the State."
During the "Driving Out" of the Chinese who were commonly called the "yellow peril," 40,000 miners of Chinese ancestry were forcibly expelled from California in 1868. Even from 1924 until 1948, any American marrying a Chinese lost their citizenship. This is not myth. This is not ancient history, but what happened right here in Sacramento. How do we remember what so few even know?
Very few remember that mobs stormed through towns where Chinese immigrants lived, burning homes and looting shops. Chinese were lynched and scalped. They had their pigtails cut off and were branded with hot irons. All this was endorsed by the government through legislation.
In Los Angeles during 1871, 20 innocent Chinese men were lynched or burned alive by mobs of white men. Four men were crucified spread-eagle and then executed with knife and gun.
And in 1885, in Rock Springs, Wyoming, 28 Chinese men were murdered by local townspeople. In an orgy of bloodletting, mobs not only burned the Chinese alive but then mutilated their dead bodies. Across California, Chinese workers suffer beatings and shootings and were herded to railroad stations, loaded on trains, and never seen again.
Vigilantes torched Chinese homes and businesses throughout the west. Newspapers of the day across California, in Sacramento, Chico, Calistoga, Truckee, Modesto, and dozens of other locales reported violent mob actions against Chinese people, who had no legal recourse. Forced removals, occurred in Cherry Creek, Colorado; Tacoma, Washington; Tombstone, Arizona; and Redlands, California. A popular saying of the day became "He doesn't stand a Chinaman's chance."
From Ukiah to the Napa Valley, to Fresno to Redlands, Chinese were beaten, shot, and loaded into trains to be shipped out of town. These violent attacks on Chinese immigrants were concentrated in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River valleys, and especially right here, in the Delta region of Yee Fow. While a handful of Chinese towns remained in the Delta, the vast majority of Chinese immigrants were driven from the land and forced into marginal survival.
The levees built in this area by Chinese immigrants created huge profits for capitalists and opened up some of the most fertile and productive land in the world. In return, these immigrants were denied the most basic rights. Their communities were burned. Dozens were murdered by racist mobs. And they were driven out from the very land they had created from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta swamps.
We need a Yee Fow Museum to tell the story of the Chinese, the ONLY people to carve out a place in The Railyard and called it "home." Anything less than a Yee Fow Museum would be historically irresponsible. The Chinese need a place of remembrance that stands for justice and human dignity. This is not out of guilt but to enlighten. The Yee Fow Museum will represent the wisdom to reach out to the angels of our higher nature and treat one another as humanly as possible.
More about the Yee Fow Museum will be included on this site as time progresses.