Santa Ana burned down its Chinatown in 1906. What are its lessons on anti-Asian hate?

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Amy Marcelo, 30, holds up a sign, while listening to speakers during a rally to end discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in New York City, U.S., March 21, 2021. Photo by Eric Lee.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose all have Chinatowns. Santa Ana had one many years ago. In his LA Times column, Gustavo Arellano wrote about Santa Ana’s Chinatown and what happened to it.

In the 1880s and 1890s, there were about 200 people in Santa Ana’s Chinatown, in the area which now spans Busch Street, Third Street, and Main Street. But Santa Ana officials worked hard to not let the vibrant neighborhood prosper. 

By 1906, the population dwindled to about 15 people. That year, city health officials alleged that a man in Chinatown had leprosy, and the local fire department burned down the area. According to press and historical accounts, more than 1000 people went on to cheer the flames. 

Arellano writes in the column, “The destruction of Santa Ana’s Chinatown was just one of dozens, if not hundreds, of anti-Chinese pogroms that plagued the West during the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

He tells KCRW, “There's a perniciousness to anti-Asian racism. And the saddest part about it, in my opinion, is how little of it is actually known. … What's happening now with advocates trying to bring back these lessons from the dead, may it actually permeate and percolate through our mind so we do not forget ever again.”

Credits

Guest:
Gustavo Arellano - LA Times columnist and contributor to Greater LA. - @GustavoArellano

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel, Kathryn Barnes