Humboldt Asians & Pacific Islanders in Solidarity
The Chinese people were integral to building the West (including Humboldt County) until the national Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1885 Eureka expulsion. Subsequent expulsions occurred in surrounding towns and areas in following years. A hostile culture in Eureka prevented Chinese Americans from returning to Humboldt County until the 1950s.
Listen to KQED The California Report Magazine:
Chinese Immigrants Were Forced Out of Eureka in 1885 — Here's How Locals Are Making That History Known
Dave Young Kim: Fowl Mural (Eureka Chinatown)
Why Do We Need the Eureka Chinatown Project?
The Eureka Chinatown Project is an initiative by community members and Humboldt Asians & Pacific Islanders in Solidarity (HAPI) to honor the history and culture of the first Chinese people in Humboldt County, California. As we delved into the history of the Chinese people in our community and the Expulsion of 1885, we learned that there was a side of the story that was untold -- the silenced voices of the Chinese people themselves. We learned to read for silences, explore contradictions, and seek out multiple perspectives.
Chinese voices have been largely excluded from newspapers and other published media, particularly during the years of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), but they were not silenced completely. We explored legal briefs, journals, letters, photographs, census data, and poetry by Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans. Even if most of us have been unfamiliar with these stories, Chinese people recorded their lives and their contributions to the Eureka community.
The Eureka Chinatown Project seeks to raise awareness about anti-Chinese discrimination and the diverse ways that Chinese Americans resisted racism and built community. By uncovering our history of resistance and resilience, we hope to restore the history of the first Chinese Americans in Humboldt county, to tell the truth of their history, and to further our journey towards a more inclusive and equitable future.
Chinese Expulsion of 1885
In the 1880s, Eureka’s Chinatown was the thriving center of Chinese life in Humboldt County and home to hundreds of men and women engaged in a variety of occupations and trades including vegetable farming, mining, fishing, construction, retail shops, laundries, restaurants, and domestic service. Although about half the Chinese people in Humboldt County lived in the segregated community in downtown Eureka, many others lived in neighboring towns, logging camps and mines, and in households where they worked as cooks and servants.
Many Eureka residents, including judges and journalists, were overtly hostile to the Chinese community and openly disparaged and attacked them. Violence against Chinese community members, including harassment, robbery, and murder, often went unpunished and local newspapers frequently justified such crimes with racist slogans. As anti-Chinese sentiment and policies grew at the national level, including passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, anti-Chinese voices in the local press grew even more insistent. On February 5, 1885, the Humboldt Times-Telephone condemned Chinatown as a blight on the community and called for the removal of its inhabitants “by any means necessary.”
On February 6, 1885, a stray bullet hit and killed city councilmember David Kendall. An angry mob of over 600 people quickly gathered at Centennial Hall. It erected a gallows at the edge of Chinatown and demanded violent retribution against the entire Chinese community. Some Eureka residents objected to the mob’s demands to murder the Chinese and burn Chinatown, perhaps because they employed Chinese people as ranch hands, cooks, gardeners and servants; many saw them as decent, hard-working people. They spoke out against the mob only to be shouted down and, in one instance, hanged in effigy.
Local Eureka leaders, organized as the Committee of Fifteen, won the support of the mob that voted to remove all the Chinese residents of Eureka and Humboldt County. They presented a deadly ultimatum to Chinatown’s leaders: collect whatever belongings they could carry and leave in two days. Otherwise, they would face mob violence. On that scary night, the Chinese of Eureka packed what they could. The next day the sheriff and local vigilantes marched the residents of Chinatown to a cold warehouse at the wharf. On February 8, 1885, 263 men, women, and children were loaded onto two steamships bound for San Francisco. They were forced to leave behind their homes, businesses, farms, boats, furniture, clothing, and vegetable gardens--anything they could not take with them. The next year, 1886, fifty-six Chinese individuals, led by the Wing Hing Company, brought a lawsuit against the City of Eureka in the Ninth District Court of California claiming $132,820 ($3.7 million in current value) in damages. The lawsuit was dismissed in March 1889, with the excuse that since Chinese immigrants were legally barred from owning land, they could not experience loss of property.
In the months and years following the 1885 expulsion, most Chinese residents of Humboldt County were forced to leave or go into hiding. In 1906, a “Second Expulsion” occurred when owners of a salmon cannery on the Eel River brought in Chinese and Japanese workers. They were quickly rounded up and held on Tulawat Island until a ship arrived to return them to Astoria Oregon. The workers refused to leave until they were paid for a full season’s work.
A few resilient Chinese men, such as Charlie Moon and Willie Bow, remained in Native American communities of the Chilulah, Karuk, Hupa, Wiyot, and Yurok, while others lived in secluded ranches and logging camps where their skills were valued. Yet in an era when anti-Asian racism dominated the politics and culture of the West Coast, Eureka retained its reputation as a virulently anti-Chinese city. For the next sixty years, Humboldt County proudly claimed that it was “Chinese free,” and sought to erase the evidence of Chinatown and hide the Chinese people’s legacy of perseverance, enterprise, and resistance.
It was not until after the Second World War, the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, and the repeal of the California Alien Land Law in 1956, that Chinese Americans began to return to Humboldt County. One such pioneer was Ben Chin, a decorated Army veteran who established Chin’s Café in South Eureka in 1954. Since then, the Asian American community of Humboldt County has continued to grow and thrive, demonstrating resilience and capacity for reconciliation in the face of hatred and discrimination, and an ability to work with other communities in Humboldt County to strive for peace and prosperity for all of the county’s residents.
Born in the Taishan district of the Chinese province of Guangdong, Ben Gim Chin came to the United States at the age of 12. His family settled in Portland, Oregon and he worked in his grandfather’s Chinese grocery store, one of the few businesses Chinese were allowed to participate in following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned Chinese immigrants until 1943. Seven years after arriving in his new homeland, Chin was drafted to serve as a military policeman during World War 2. His tour of duty lasted 24 months and took him to stations in France, Italy, North Africa and Germany.
After the war, Chin joined the restaurant business, managing in short order to open his own place in Portland, OR, and later in Cottage Grove, OR. When a highway expansion severely impacted his restaurant, a relative suggested he try his luck in Eureka, described in Chin’s obituary as “a city in northern California which could benefit from his culinary skills.” Ben chose the town based on its population size within the region and the lack of Chinese restaurants. And that is how “unbeknownst to Ben, he would become the first Chinese to reside in Humboldt County in more than 70 years.”
Chin opened the Canton Café in 1954, which he sold in 1970 and opened Chin’s Café and Motel. He and Mary, his wife of 55 years, operated Chin’s Café and Motel until their retirement in 1990. The couple met and married in Hong Kong in 1962. Several Eureka city dignitaries dined regularly at the Canton Café, including city councilman Sam Sacco who served as Eureka mayor from 1975 to 1979, and then former Mayor George Jacobs (who served from 1954 to 1956), likely contributing to Chin’s acceptance into a community with decades of few, if any, Asian residents. Even then, Chin had to face threatening phone calls and sluggish city bureaucracy that did not allow him to hire more than one Chinese cook at a time.
Chin passed away on May 20, 2019, at the rich age of 97. As mentioned in a feature in the North Coast Journal commemorating his life, Chin “cooked more than one generation of locals their first Chinese meals and paved the way for other cooks, immigrants and entrepreneurs to follow.” In addition to a mural featuring Ben Chin at the site of the Chinatown that stood in Eureka during the 1880s, he is portrayed in a World War II display at the airport in McKinleyville.
This write up is based on three obituaries: one written by Ben Chin’s family on legacy.com; another from NCJ; and a last from Times-Standard.
The Eureka Chinatown Project has been a fast moving community endeavor! As an all volunteer organization we are thankful for the participation by our project teams. We are excited to unveil the finished Eureka Chinatown Projects over the next few months.
Mural: Chinatown Lost & Found
Eureka Chinatown Project Mural Press Release.
Thanks to Michelle Cartledge, Co-Owner of Humboldt Cider Company and main facilitator of the 2021 Eureka Street Art Festival!, Eureka Chinatown Project was able to participate in this year's mural painting event. We sent out a call to artists, and received many submissions from talented artists. ECP's art committee was tasked with the unenviable goal of selecting one artist to design and paint the mural. Fortunately, the committee was able to thoughtfully evaluate each proposal sent in until, through a carefully considered process, a decision was reached. The chosen artist, seasoned muralist David Young Kim, traveled to Humboldt from his home in Southern California on August 8, 2021, to begin painting his mural, "Fowl", at the site of Eureka's Chinatown, located in the alley between Coast Central Credit Union Downtown and Ellis Art and Engineering (on the back wall of Savage Henry Comedy Club). You can check out Dave's previous work on his website!
Mural: “Fowl”, by Dave Kim
If you walk along E street, you can easily see the street sloping down to the water of Humboldt Bay. When the historic Chinatown stood between E, F, 4th and 5th streets before the 1885 Chinese Expulsion, there was a creek that ran through the block and emptied into a slough below the intersection of 4th and E streets. However, the city planners chose to fill in this slough to help improve 4th street, leaving Chinatown the endpoint for waste from outhouses, businesses, homes and other water sewage. This created foul living conditions and, though the Chinese people were not dirty, they were blamed for the stench and unsanitary environment. This also became a reason for the local anti-Chinese sentiment and ultimate expulsion of the Chinese people.
Artist, Dave Kim, explains “I wanted to use the duck as the primary symbol, elevate the fowl that was used by the white majority derogatorily. Taking the colorful Mandarin duck native to China - which traditionally represents wish for happiness; loyalty-as they mated for life; wish for children and young love - to symbolically offer back to the past residents the things they sacrificed - being relegated as second class, being oceans away from potential partners. Eureka had a population of 20 women to 200 men.” The yellow background represents the prospect for gold, the photo of historic Chinatown is imposed in the middle half of the mural and the photo of Ben Chin in his U.S. military attire represents the arrival of a new wave of Chinese and Asian/Pacific Islanders to the area after the 1950s. The red sun represents the passing of time and the Chinese characters translate as “home”.
Why We Chose It
This mural was selected for its bold fresh take on the Chinese residents’ experience. The mural tells the story of how Chinese and Asian residents were treated in the early days after arriving to the United States and the discrimination that continues today - being called foul, disease-ridden and not a cultural fit for this country. We believe this mural is a step towards dispelling those stereotypes in our community and the animated play on words reclaims a piece of Chinese culture on the streets of Eureka. Our culture is deeply rich and beautiful and we are not only contributing, but integral members of our community both then and now. This mural compels the viewer to stop, ask questions and talk, a courageous act from a group of people that have been historically told to be silent.
About the Artist
David Y. Kim is a skilled and experienced artist from Hermosa Beach, California with a MFA from Mills College. From his letter of intent, he states “my work is composed of a considered thought process and addresses real issues but in a way that isn’t overt or didactic but instead takes aesthetics, beauty and meaning as a form of communication. As a Korean-American, born of immigrant parents, I bring an approach that is inquisitive and a perspective that longs to learn and ends in hope.”
Chinatown Interpretive Signs
With the amazing support of the City of Eureka, we are able to commemorate the history of Chinatown on two future interpretive signs located near Historic Chinatown. One panel will focus on the life of the Chinese people and the other on the 1885 Expulsion.
What started as a plaque to indicate where Chinatown once stood has evolved into a commemorative monument that will be placed on the corner of 4th and E, in the decorative parking barrier of Coast Central Credit Union. We are grateful for their partnership and support.
Naming of Chinatown Alley
The ECP is working with the City of Eureka to rename the alley that runs through the Old Chinatown Block to commemorate the Chinatown that once stood there. A name has been presented by the ECP to the City of Eureka and is progressing through the review process.
Eureka Chinatown Self-Guided Walking Tour
A printed and digital tour will be created of the major points of Chinatown, the life of the Chinese and the 1885 Expulsion. The tour will circle the block of Old Chinatown and potentially end at the waterfront boardwalk. Expected Fall 2021.
Press & CoverageEureka City Council Meeting Video , May 4: Presentation & AAPI Month Proclamation on May 4th, 2021. (Begins at 8:28)
Times Standard, May 6, 2021: Eureka City Council Hears about the Eureka Chinatown Project
Lost Coast Outpost, May 7: ‘Eureka Chinatown Project’ Will Rename, Add Mural to Downtown Alley to Teach Community About the History of Chinese Americans in Humboldt
Lost Coast Outpost, August 17: ‘Real History is Being Acknowledged’: Two Eureka Murals Shine a Spotlight on the City’s Racist Past
El Lenador, September 2021: The Eureka Chinatown Bringing Attention to a Forgotten Past. (pg 10-11)
Clarke Historical Museum: Immigration, Expulsion, Homecoming, The Legacy of the Chinese Expulsion in Humboldt County
Eureka Chinatown Project Committee
The Eureka Chinatown Project is made up of following individuals each adding their own passions, knowledge and talents to the project. It is their hard work and dedication that keeps this project moving forward - thank you.
Christina Hsu Accomando, Brittany Britton, Katie Buesch, Daryl Chinn, Robert Cliver, Avi D'Souza, Patty Hecht, Chisa Hughes, Melati Kaye, Michael Le, Ali Ong Lee, Sue Lee Mossman, Brieanne Mirjah, Rose Mirjah, Michele Miyamoto, Jessica Olson, Vicki Ozaki, Alex Ozaki-McNeill, Marylyn Paik-Nicely, Jean Pfaelzer, Amy Uyeki, Terry Uyeki, Roger Wang, Kumi Watanabe-Schock, Katie Whiteside, Sheri Woo
Partners, Sponsors & Friends
Thank you for your support!