The senior pastors of five Truckee-area churches hosted a delegation of Taiwanese religious leaders last week, and conducted prayers of atonement at several Truckee locations associated with a 19th century campaign to drive Chinese residents out of town.
The Rev. Eric Moen of the River Rock Christian Fellowship described the prayer ceremonies last Tuesday as a first step in addressing the wrongs committed against Truckee’s Chinese community during a turbulent period in California.
“Our town has this history of being racist,” Moen, a 15-year Truckee resident, said. “Instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn’t happen, let us admit it. Let’s acknowledge it happened, say we’re sorry, and move forward with a clean conscience.”
In an April 2 Sierra Sun column, Moen described the hostility of Californians toward Chinese immigrants in Truckee from 1876 to 1889. An 1886 economic boycott of Chinese businesses, and against companies that employed Chinese, came to be known as the “Truckee Method” of resolving the racial conflict.
The 1886 boycott led to the departure of Truckee’s Chinese community, which provided two-thirds of the town’s manual labor at the time.
Moen referred to other public acts of contrition he believes Truckee should model. The Maryland Legislature recently expressed “profound regret” for the practice of slavery, and past U.S. presidents have issued apologies to Japanese-Americans for World War II internment camps and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.
But Moen was unsuccessful Thursday when he asked the Truckee Town Council to consider issuing an apology to the Chinese people. Mayor Richard Anderson said the examples that Moen cited were not a fair comparison with the experience in Truckee.
“Those examples are where the government had a role [in the mistreatment],” Anderson said. “Truckee’s town government didn’t have a role.”
One council member suggested that Moen approach Nevada County, and Anderson recommended he work with schools and the historical society to raise awareness about the 19th century anti-Chinese activities.
In an interview Friday, Anderson said town government has tried to avoid involvement in divisive issues, citing the debate over the Iraq war as one example.
“It’s not our role,” Anderson said. “The town’s responsibility is to provide services to the citizens of Truckee.”
Despite the cool reception, Moen said the area’s religious leaders are unlikely to drop the issue, which has been under discussion for the past decade. Also attending Tuesday’s prayer service with the delegation from Taipei were pastors from Sierra Bible Church, Tahoe Forest Church, Christ Life Lutheran Church of Kings Beach and Tahoe Faith Fellowship of Tahoe City. Others were supportive, but unable to attend, he said.
“We’re definitely planning to go forward,” Moen added.