Celia Jiménez here, thinking about how important history is, especially for minorities who many times are seen or perceived as outsiders on their own soil, and how it can validate our sense of belonging.
I remember how surprised I was the first time I heard there was an area in Salinas called Chinatown. Maybe because in my own everyday life in Monterey County I didn’t encounter a large Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, and I didn’t know that from the 1800s into the first half of the 20th century, the Salinas Valley agriculture industry and the Monterey Bay fishing industry had relied heavily upon Asian immigrant workers.
While working on the cover story for this week’s print edition of the Weekly, I discovered that even members of the AAPI community who grew up here didn’t learn much about their local heritage until later in life. Gerry Low-Sabado says in her family, they didn’t talk about their history or their ancestors, Chinese immigrants who were shipwrecked at Point Lobos and later settled in a fishing village at Point Alones, at what is now Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. Her great-grandmother, Quock Mui, was the first documented Chinese woman born in the Monterey Bay area, in 1859.
Once Low-Sabado learned about her family history, she decided to share it. “If I don’t tell the story, those stories are going to be lost forever,” she told me.
Over the past year, we have all lived under stressful circumstances because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the AAPI community has faced additional challenges due to the increase in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric, coming even from the office of the president of the United States; Former President Donald Trump called Covid-19 the “China virus” and “kung flu.”
As our awareness of this uptick in anti-Asian hate has risen, so too have calls to stop hate. “We should all stand together because we are recognizing that what is happening is injustice to certain people,” says Kaye Roberts, who organized a rally in Monterey against anti-Asian hate. “We should all be banding together to fight that.”
Nikki Marangoni-Simonsen, a Pacific Grove native and law student at UC Hastings Law School, was also surprised to learn about Monterey County’s AAPI history—and the series of racist laws enacted in the past that actively oppressed them. (An excerpt of her new paper is republished in this week’s print edition, and you can read the full paper here.)
The history is not entirely hidden if you know where to look, and thanks to the efforts of the AAPI community working to keep their history alive and accessible to the public. The Japanese American Citizens League recently revived its collection of artifacts for exhibition. Nonprofit Asian Cultural Experience got involved with a design at Moon Gate Plaza in Salinas’ Chinatown to incorporate Filipino and Chinese design elements. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History has a photo collection and permanent exhibit about the Chinese fishing village at Point Alones, where Low-Sabado’s ancestors lived. The story of how that village burned to the ground has been revived and retold, and resulted in calls to scrap P.G.’s annual Feast of Lanterns. And with official support from the city of Pacific Grove, Low-Sabado for a decade led an annual Walk of Remembrance to retell that story. That’s just a partial list.
When we are informed and take action, we can start to see real change. This week, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that makes it easier to report anti-Asian hate crimes. “For centuries, Asian American, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islander, diverse and vibrant communities have helped build this nation only to be often stopped over, forgotten and ignored,” Biden said, “We see you, and the Congress has said we see you, and we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias.”