Sunday, June 17, 2007

Driven Out

Crescent City’s newspaper The Daily Triplicate reports on a new book about Humboldt County history. Jean Pfaelzer is the author of Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. Pfaelzer spoke Saturday at North Town Books in Arcata.

From the Triplicate:

Eureka's tale, she found, repeated itself in cities and towns along the West Coast from Seattle to Crescent City to San Diego and east into Wyoming, Nevada and Idaho.

"I realized I was sitting on a story of ethnic cleansing in the U.S.," Pfaelzer said. "It was systematic. It was deliberate. It was all over the place."


After being forced from their Eureka homes, Chinese people filed the first lawsuit in America for reparations. They organized a militia in Amador and a vegetable strike in Truckee in response to evacuation attempts. Chinese workers on the railroad line won the right to keep their own cooks who boiled water for tea and saved their health as diseases spread among whites.


Eureka's roundup in 1885 followed the death of a city councilman, caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out in Chinatown. A local crowd wanted to kill all of the city's Chinese residents and burn down Chinatown. Leaders settled on immediately driving them out by loading them onto boats for San Francisco.

When they arrived, the Chinese sued Eureka for racism.

"It is an instance of formidable resistence," Pfaelzer said of the action that also sought damages for their lost wages, fishing vessels, crops and horses. "They sue for being the objects of mob violence, the intangible hatred that has come down on them and forced them out of Eureka."


Pfaelzer wants the issue and her book to focus more attention on current immigration problems.

She pointed to communities in the U.S. that have forced out Latino residents, through rental laws and other means. She also noted the recent raids on immigrants in the Eureka area.

"It is happening again," Pfaelzer said.

She compared rules that called on the Chinese to carry photo IDs to possible future requirements for U.S. citizens to carry passports. Chinese residents at the time refused.


"Many communities are just now beginning to deal with what happened to the first Chinese Americans," Pfaelzer said.