Our View: Exploring an unsettling past
Earlier this month, a group of Truckee-area ministers took a first step in recognizing the injustices committed against the towns Chinese community in the 19th century. Joined by a delegation of religious leaders from Taiwan, the pastors conducted prayers of atonement at several Truckee locations associated with a decade-long campaign to drive Chinese residents out of town.The Rev. Eric Moen then asked the Truckee Town Council to acknowledge the mistreatment of the Chinese, which culminated in an 1886 boycott of businesses that employed Chinese laborers. Pressured by a boycott compliance committee, the Central Pacific Railroad and local lumber companies fired their Chinese employees and canceled woodcutting agreements with Chinese labor contractors.The economic strategy to force Chinese residents from the area came to be known as the Truckee Method.In deflecting Moens request, Truckee Mayor Richard Anderson said apologizing to the Chinese for past mistreatment was not among the responsibilities of the current town government. In an interview with the Sun, the mayor said, in so many words, that the newspaper had as much reason to apologize as the town, since it was the Truckee Republican, the Suns 19th century predecessor, that stirred up much of the anti-Chinese resentment.We agree. A review of articles and editorials published in the Republican confirms that the Truckee newspaper both reflected the racial animus of the era, and inflamed Euro-American anger toward the Chinese.The Republican called for a relocation of Truckees Chinatown in an 1874 editorial. Two years later, the newspaper published an anti-Chinese editorial that served to galvanize resentment against the ethnic community that represented two-thirds of Truckees manual laborers.Within days, white Truckee residents conducted the first of many anti-Chinese meetings, and formed the Caucasian League to lobby businesses to fire their Chinese employees. Against a backdrop of a national economic turmoil, Euro-Americans across the West agitated for ousting the Chinese, blaming them for driving down wages and taking jobs away from native-born Americans.Between 1876 and 1886, the Republican reported a litany of attacks against the Chinatowns that had sprung up in towns along the Central Pacific Railway. In 1878, Truckee forced the towns Chinese residents to relocate across the Truckee River after a suspected arson fire swept through Chinatown. The Chinese must go, the Republican commented.Violence against Chinese immigrants was by no means limited to Truckee. In 1885, Americans drove 500 Chinese out of Rock Springs, Wyoming, killing 50, until the U.S. Army arrived to restore order.That year the campaign against the Chinese reached a crescendo in Truckee. The distinguished editor of the Republican, Charles F. McGlashan, had been elected to the California Assembly, and led the effort to rid the town of its Chinese immigrants. On Nov. 25, 1885, he published an editorial calling for a bounty on the braided pigtails of Chinese.The inflammatory comment ignited an intense campaign to drive the immigrants from town through a boycott of their employers. Rumors circulated of mob violence against the Chinese, and boycotts of Chinese employers spread to towns throughout northern California.As businesses submitted to the demands of the boycott compliance committee, the Republican triumphantly called Truckee the battleground of the West Coast, and reported in late January 1886 that the boycott had become statewide. The Republican joined an organization of anti-Chinese newspapers, and McGlashan promoted the Truckee Method at a convention in San Jose.By 1891, just one Chinese resident remained in Truckee, the paper reported.There are children in Truckee from 6 to 8 years old who do not remember of ever having seen a Chinaman, the Republican observed.While the residents of Truckee are not personally responsible for the sad events of the towns early history, we believe that Rev. Moen was right in apologizing to the Chinese people for their mistreatment at the hands of our ancestors. Moen calls it an act of identificational repentance.Just as American states have formally apologized for the injustices of slavery, it is also appropriate to acknowledge the racially motivated attacks against Chinese immigrants.