Chinese Americans fight for preservation of historic Riverside Chinatown site 2009-09-24 13:45:00   Print

    LOS ANGELES, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Americans in Riverside, Southern California, has won initial victory in their fight for the preservation of the historic Riverside Chinatown site but long battle is still awaiting them.

    Chinese pioneers first arrived in Riverside around the time it was founded in 1870. In 1878, the first Chinese businesses were established. An early Chinatown area was located downtown, near the Mission Inn and a few blocks from the current Chinese Pavilion.

    In 1885, the Chinese community was forced to move to the Tequesquite Arroyo due to ordinances outlawing Chinese businesses in central downtown locations. This second Chinatown flourished with over 450 full-time residents and housed an additional 2,500 people during the harvest season.

    Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and anti-Chinese sentiment, the town slowly declined after the turn of the century. Most of the population had died or moved out by the 1930s.

    The last resident and property owner of Chinatown, Wong Ho Leun(George Wong) died in 1974. The last of the buildings were torn down in 1977. What remains of the site, remnants of buried buildings and other relics, lies underground.

    However, the site of the archaeological remains of Riverside's Chinatown has been declared a City Landmark, a County Landmark, a State Point of Historical Interest, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    This Chinatown is the most complete and representative of the many citrus belt Chinatowns of Southern California; it contains the remains of a temple, the business district, permanent residential buildings, and probably areas of temporary housing

    But the Riverside County Board of Education negotiated the sale of the property to a developer. On Oct. 7, 2008 the Riverside City Council approved the construction of a medical office building which would obliterate this important historical archeological site.

    A group of Chinese Americans formed a "Save Our Chinatown Committee" (SOCC) to fight for the preservation of the Chinatown site. The committee filed a lawsuit in court attempting to stop the constructions on the old Chinatown site.

    Last month, a Riverside County superior court judge made a ruling which is favorable to the "Save Our Chinatown Committee." According to the ruling, the judge found that the agreement for the Riverside County Office of Education to sell the old Chinatown site to developer Doug Jacobs violated state law and invalidated the sale.

    Committee members believed that the ruling invalidating the sale of the land opens the way to a possible settlement that will preserve the site.

    "Our initial reaction is one of relief, but we realize that there is still work to be done before we can guarantee permanent protection for this extremely important archaeological site," said SOCC spokesperson Margie Akin.

    "The judge decided that the sale of the land was improperly handled, and that the sale of the property is not valid. However, public statements by representatives of the Board of Education have made it plain that they want the revenue from the sale of the land, and it would not surprise us if they started the process of selling the land over again," warned Akin.

    "The land is now owned by a public entity, which gives us some time to organize and make use of the protections it still has as a result of public ownership. If the property is sold to a private individual our ability to protect the site is severely damaged," she said.

    Akin said in the court ruling, the judge said the court cannot veto political decisions made by the City Council. This means that if the people of Riverside, and beyond, want to save this site, "we can not depend on the court to save us, but must bring the political will of the people to bear on the council."

    She stressed that the Save Our Chinatown Committee encourages all citizens of Riverside to learn more about the contributions of Chinese Americans to Riverside's history, and to support efforts to preserve this historical and cultural resource.

    Chinese Americans who are fighting for the preservation of the old Chinatown site have been encouraged by a landmark bill passed on July 17 this year by the California legislature to apologize to the state's Chinese American community for racist laws enacted as far back as in the mid-19th century.

    The Los Angeles Times said in an editorial: "California's apology for past discrimination: Saying 'sorry' says something: The state's regret for the way past generations treated Chinese immigrants may help heal hurts that have festered for decades."

    Now Chinese Americans are waiting for the Riverside County and City government to do something to show their respect for the Chinese pioneers who contributed much to the development of the community.

Editor: Li Xianzhi
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