Group asks Denver to take away offensive plaque

The Colorado Asian Pacific United organization unveiled its proposed text for a new plaque commemorating Denver’s historic Chinatown.

DENVER – The only thing that recalls the history of Denver’s once thriving Chinatown is a plaque that is easy to miss. It is currently located in a building across from Coors Field on 20th and Blake Streets. For those who don’t read it, members of the Colorado Asian Pacific United Organization (CAPU) say it misrepresents a community and its history.

“The history of the Chinese in Colorado and the Asia-Pacific Americans in the state has generally been more or less, well, canceled,” said William Wei, a member of the CAPU and former state historian.

The organization held an event in Zoe Ma Ma at Union Station to unveil its proposed text for a new plaque commemorating Denver’s historic Chinatown.

“As a historian, I am fundamentally committed to the truth,” said Wei. “The truth is out there, well, and our mission as historians and as members of the CAPU is to bring that story to light.”

The current badge reads “Hop Alley / Chinese Riot of 1880” if the uprising that took place can be more accurately described as an “anti-Chinese racial uprising”.

CAPU believes that an essential step in ending racism and injustice is better understanding their shared history as they take the first step in honoring the past.

“Of course, unless we do, that information will never be released to the public, much like the existence of Chinatown itself,” said Wei.

On Sunday, the CAPU was joined by descendants of business owners who made Chinatown a success in the 19th century: the Lung and Chin families.

In addition to a new plaque, the organization is hoping to add a mural depicting the Asian and Pacific American experiences and kiosks that would help spread information about the community and its history.

CAPU said they tried to contact the building owners to start removing the badge but were unable to reach them. 9NEWS has also reached out to the owner and manager of the building but we have not received any feedback.

“We are worth celebrating,” said Wei. “That’s why we have these activities today to celebrate the Asia-Pacific American past, present, and future.”

Full suggested text:

Denver’s historic Chinatown 1869-1940

“Of the 200+ Chinese communities that once existed in the American West, Denver’s Chinatown was one of the largest and most affluent. Chinatown’s origins date back to an anonymous Chinese immigrant who arrived in Denver in June 1869. He was probably one of the Chinese railroad workers primarily responsible for building the western half of the famous Transcontinental Railroad that united the country economically and culturally.

Chinatown was on Wazee Street between 15th and 16th Streets and extended to 22nd Street. It was a thriving frontier community that provided Chinese immigrants working in Colorado and Intermountain West with a wide range of ethnic goods and services in a welcoming environment. The Chinese immigrants mainly did physical labor such as working in mines and building infrastructure. Eventually they were relegated to marginal livelihoods like laundrettes and cooks.

Although there were comparatively few Chinese people, they were perceived by the native white population as an economic and cultural threat. Chinese people encountered racial hatred and were denied civil rights, economic opportunities and social justice. This hostility led to “The Chinese Question,” a national controversy over whether Chinese workers should be allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Local antagonism led to Denver’s anti-Chinese racial uprising. On October 31, 1880, an estimated 3,000-5,000 Denverites came to Chinatown to destroy it and drive the Chinese out. During the mob’s rampage, they lynched and beat a washer named Look Young to death. Although the killers were brought to justice, they were acquitted of the fact. Despite ongoing tensions, most of the Chinese community stayed to rebuild Chinatown. What the death knell of Denver’s Chinatown sounded like was national laws preventing Chinese immigrants from raising families in America and even from entering the country. Ironically, the anti-Chinese uprising in Denver has been cited as one of the reasons why the US Congress passed the disreputable Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) to ensure social stability.

Since the end of World War II, Chinese and other Asia-Pacific Americans have returned to lower downtown Denver to live and work. No longer confined to one ethnic enclave, they can now be found throughout the greater Denver area and Colorado.

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