Truckee’s Chinese History Proclamation

Truckee's Chinatown in 1878.
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Truckee’s Chinese History Proclamation

Tonight the Town Council of Truckee is celebrating the 153 anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, with a proclamation “honoring and appreciating” the contributions of Truckee’s past Chinese residents. This proclamation is a frustrating missed opportunity to acknowledge the violence and unequal protection provided to residents of our community.

I was asked by a Truckee councilmember last year to help draft this proclamation. Compelled to act by the wave of anti-Asian violence, San Jose and Antioch had issued formal apologies for their past mistreatment of Chinese residents, and it sounded like Truckee perhaps wanted to follow suit. Then the proclamation fell behind other priorities. I urged the Town Manager to keep up the momentum and release the proclamation on Lunar New Year, which did not resonate with staff. The topic resurfaced for AAPI month, and I researched and submitted the text below. It borrows the acknowledgement language and structure from San Jose’s proclamation, supplemented with historical references from the Ghosts of Gold Mountain and Fire and Ice: A Portrait of Truckee. After I sent this language, Town staff declined to engage with me further. My attempts to stir that original councilmember and others went nowhere.

With everything happening in the country right now, it’s frustrating to see another self-identified progressive group miss yet another opportunity to act justly.


A RESOLUTION OF THE COUNCIL OF THE TOWN OF TRUCKEE APOLOGIZING TO CHINESE IMMIGRANTS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS FOR ACTS OF FUNDAMENTAL INJUSTICE AND DISCRIMINATION, SEEKING FORGIVENESS AND COMMITTING TO THE RECTIFICATION OF PAST POLICIES AND MISDEEDS

WHEREAS, between 1849 and 1853 about 24,000 young Chinese men immigrated to California and by 1870 there were an estimated 63,000 Chinese in the United States, 77% of whom resided in California; and

WHEREAS, in 1870, at least 30% of Truckee’s population was Chinese, and 45% of its workforce, which made Truckee home to the second largest Chinatown on the West Coast of the United States; and

WHEREAS, these Chinese residents were an essential part of Truckee’s early community, providing the vast majority of the labor to construct the trans-continental railroad, and to power the timber and ice harvesting industries; and

WHEREAS, this thriving Chinese community owned and operated several businesses, including an opera theater, restaurants. barbershops, teahouses, grocery stores, boarding houses, fraternal associations, and herbal stores; and

WHEREAS, Chinese immigrants were met with virulent racism, xenophobia and the violence of anti-Chinese forces in Truckee from early on and denied equal protection before the law; and

WHEREAS, early on the morning June 18, 1876, seven white men who identified as members of the Caucasian League poured kerosene and set fire to two cabins owned by Chinese woodcutters along Trout Creek;

WHEREAS, these assailants shot the Chinese residents as they fled, killing one and injuring more, in an event that came to be known nationally as the Trout Creek Outrage, which a Virginia City newspaper described as “one of the most cold-blooded and unprovoked murders ever recorded,” and

WHEREAS, seven men were tried for the Trout Creek Outrage, and despite two confessions, all seven men were acquitted by a jury of their peers after only nine minutes of deliberation; and

WHEREAS, the Truckee Republican printed an editorial on November 25, 1882 titled “The Cue Klux Klan” that suggested cutting Chinese men’s sacred hair (which they wore in a style called a cue), which is assault, as a “sure cure for the Chinese pestilence”; and 

WHEREAS, the “Safety Committee of Truckee” was formed in 1885, and published a manifesto in the Truckee Republican wherein every businessman in Truckee pledged to “never in the future to buy from, sell to, or barter with Chinamen for anything of value”; and

WHEREAS within five weeks, this economic boycott had the intended effect of driving away the entirely of Truckee’s remaining Chinese residents; and

WHEREAS, white residents of Truckee held a torchlight parade to celebrate the departure of Truckee’s last Chinese residents; and

WHEREAS, the recent rise in anti-Asian violence and racial discrimination demonstrates that xenophobia remains deeply rooted in our society; and

WHEREAS, Asian-Americans are still considered perpetual foreigners; and

WHEREAS, the story of Chinese immigrants and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them in the 19th and early 20th century should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of Truckee’s history; and

WHEREAS, the Town must acknowledge and take responsibility for the legacy of discrimination against early Chinese immigrants as part of our collective consciousness that helps contribute to the current surge in anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate; and

WHEREAS, a genuine apology for the role of the Town in this history and legacy is an important and necessary step in the process of racial reconciliation; and

WHEREAS, an apology for grievous injustices cannot erase the past, but admission of the historic wrongdoings committed can aid us in solving the critical problems of racial discrimination facing America today; 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE TOWN OF TRUCKEE:

1) Apologizes to all Chinese immigrants and their descendants who came to Truckee and were the victims of systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia, and discrimination; 

2) Acknowledges acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty, and brutality, including the boycotting the town’s Chinese businesses and destruction of Chinese businesses and homes;

3) Resolves to rectify the lingering consequences of the discriminatory policies of the Town of Truckee, and to use this resolution as a teaching moment for the public to move forward towards justice for all.

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