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Tribute to 150 year old Immigrant Massacre Sparks Tensions Today

A drawing depicting the 1871 Chinese Massacre in L.A.

On September 14, the New York Times published an article about the construction of a monument in Los Angeles memorializing the massacre of at least 18 Chinese immigrants in 1871. The victims were hung and shot by a mob who stormed a small Asian community in response to the death of a white man. The event has largely been forgotten by U.S. history, and the construction of a monument, the specifics of which are still to be determined, seeks to shine a light on this tragic event in the Asian-American experience. Discrimination faced by Asian Americans and other minority groups continues to be an issue that defines American politics. While the country has made significant progress in combating discrimination, the debate on how to handle immigration issues continues.

The only evidence that the brutal attack occurred in LA is a small sidewalk plaque near LA’s Chinese American museum. While the actual design for the memorial is still to be decided, Amy Chu, an architect working on the steering committee for the memorial, expressed her desire to make sure the memorial served as a sort of “spatial experience” rather than just an aesthetically pleasing piece of artwork. “The fundamental role of a memorial is to kind of act as a translator,” Chu said. As a result, Chu envisions the monument to be both educational and memorable, a piece that will attract not just intentional visitors but also garner attention from those who may just be passing by. The committee is currently taking suggestions from the public regarding how they want the memorial to look.

For as much as the American climate has changed regarding issues of race and immigration, disturbing trends about racial violence persist. In 2021, the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 339%, a bump from record-high numbers in 2020. According to polling data, the top reasons Asian Americans believed they faced increased discrimination during the pandemic was due to the origination of COVID-19 in China and rhetoric from former President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers.

President Trump was widely criticized for using terms like “China virus,” which many claimed were a driver of the rise in Asian hate. However, the president's supporters maintained the term was nothing more than an accurate description of the virus. Overall, the nation saw an 11% increase in all hate crimes in 2021, with Black Americans being the most targeted group. In 2021 alone, Los Angeles reported more hate crimes than any U.S. city this century – a statistic that resonates disturbingly with the LA memorial.

The nation is currently gripped in an ongoing debate on how to solve issues of illegal immigration best. Governors Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Doug Ducey (R-AZ) made headlines in April and May this year when they began to send illegal immigrants on buses to Democratically controlled sanctuary states and cities, including New York City and Chicago. The efforts, which cost over 12 million dollars, transported around 13,000 illegal immigrants. Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) brought the issue back into the spotlight in September when he sent a group of 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, home to prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama. Governor Abbott followed suit, sending a group of migrants to the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. near Vice President Kamala Harris’ home.

Conservatives lauded these decisions, asserting that the bussing served as a starting point for a necessary conversation about the logistics and dangers of illegal immigration and sanctuary state/city policies. Democrats alleged that the movement of immigrants disregarded their well-being, dehumanized them into political pawns, and did not give the states where they were bussed the proper time to prepare for the sudden influx of migrants.

However, those on the right were quick to point out that President Joe Biden ran a similar program flying migrants from the border, often secretly in the middle of the night, to areas across the country, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida, late last year starting around August. Republicans and Democrats alike raised similar concerns to those that Democrats have recently been raising about the bussing programs of Republican governors regarding the pressure unannounced flights of migrants by the Biden administration put on state social and schooling systems.

Representative Tom Suozzi (D-NY) expressed his frustration with the Biden administration last October saying, “We need information from the administration. Where are they sending these kids? So that the school districts can be prepared for the influx of kids, and then we need to get them money… I’m just angry and frustrated.”

President and executive director of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, John Yang, stressed that a message of unity is essential when racial violence and issues continue to dominate the American conversation. He stated, “Especially during a time when groups are trying to divide and pit vulnerable communities against each other, we must remember that we are stronger together”.

One hundred fifty years ago, issues like the massacre of immigrants in LA were largely pushed aside and relegated to a darker part of American history. Now, as society continues to grapple with immigration issues, both sides of the American political spectrum seem content to play games with the livelihoods of migrants for political gain, pushing real concerns to the side.


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