Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
May 16, 1997
In this room, on this occasion of warm feelings and friendship, it is hard to imagine 200 terrified Chinese people being marched at gunpoint onto a train.
But that incident is what brings us together tonight.
Our purpose in gathering here tonight is to take another step towards reconciliation and recovery from a past that none of us wants to repeat.
In order to achieve genuine reconciliation, it is necessary to create genuine historical memory.
That is not an easy thing to do.
There is no historical record of what the Chinese felt or thought - or of what became of them once they boarded the train out of town.
Unfortunately, we know far more about the people who drove the Chinese out of Tacoma than we know about the Chinese themselves.
So we can only imagine what those 200 Chinese people felt as they boarded the train, or what 500 other Chinese residents must have felt in the days before the expulsion, as they fled from this city.
And saddest of all, we can only imagine how this city might be different if the descendants of those Chinese were part of this community.
Our imagination may be an imperfect substitute for a real historical record.
But the ability to imagine the pain, the fear, and the anguish that those Chinese felt is truly an important step on the road to reconciliation.
It is that ability to imagine the pain of others that makes it possible for all of us to grieve the injustice that Tacoma's first Chinese-American community experienced.
And as Dr. Murdoch was the first to point out, we have to grieve that injustice in order to let go of it.
Tacoma was not the only community that persecuted Chinese Americans in the 1880s.
Up and down the west coast, similar incidents were commonplace.
In Seattle, for instance, the Chinese were driven onto ships rather than trains, and the year was 1887 rather than 1885.
In other communities, Chinese were actually murdered.
The depth of the pain and anguish experienced by Chinese immigrants in the 1880s is truly terrifying to think about.
But there is another side to this story that should not be forgotten.
It should not be forgotten that men like Ezra Meeker spoke out against the persecution of the Chinese here in Tacoma.
It should not be forgotten that in Olympia, the local sheriff deputized the leading merchants of the town to hold off an angry, anti-Chinese mob that threatened to burn down the local Chinese settlement.
And it should not be forgotten that local religious leaders opposed the expulsion of the Chinese because they understood the spiritual damage it did to everyone involved.
In the history of every minority in America, there are stark contrasts of light and dark.
There are tales of terrible oppression and persecution -and, on the same page - tales of incredible courage, and passionate advocacy for equal rights.
As we work to restore the historical memory of the anti-Chinese, anti-immigrant violence of the 1880s, we must also -- and equally -- work to restore our historical memory of the people who opposed it.
We should build statues of the people like Ezra Meeker, who dared to speak out in defense of the Chinese.
And we should build monuments to the citizens and the sheriff in Olympia, who put their lives on the line when they stood between an angry, armed mob and their intended Chinese victims.
It is not enough to vilify the bigots. We must never forget to celebrate the heroism of those who stood up to them.
It was those heroes who laid the tables for our dinner here tonight.
It is their tradition of enlightenment, compassion, and the love of justice that brings us to this moment of reconciliation.
And it is their tradition that we are obliged to build on for the sake of those who will dine here 100 years from now.
We are making progress.
One hundred years after the Chinese were expelled from this community, Art Wang was elected to the state legislature by over 80% of the voters.
Now we have a Chinese American governor, too.
But we have not yet achieved perfection.
In our schools, our communities, and our homes, we still harbor prejudices that we must keep working to overcome.
There are Asian-Americans who think they are better than African -Americans.
There are Korean-Americans and Filipino-Americans who have yet to reconcile with Japanese-Americans.
There are European-Americans who live in fear of being outnumbered by the rest of us.
And there are men and women who think that the opposite gender is from another planet.
So we definitely need a special place --the park that we're here to help build - where we can reflect on where we've been, how far we've come, and how far we have yet to go.
That's why the leaders of this effort and the organizers of tonight's activities deserve our sincerest gratitude.
A hundred years ago, people in China read about what was going on in places like Tacoma, and concluded that American democracy was a pack of lies.
Tonight, people from China looking in on this dinner would come to a different conclusion.
They would see that over time, democracy makes real and lasting progress possible.
And they would see that the moral imagination of people like Art Wang, Bob Evans, Congressman Norm Dicks, Theresa Pan, and David Murdoch can truly turn darkness into light.
So please join me in expressing our deepest gratitude to these and all the other leaders who've helped make this reconciliation possible.
Thank you very much.