A new chapter in Tacoma history

More than 100 elected officials, community leaders, and Tacoma residents gathered Aug. 19 for a ceremony to mark the groundbreaking of the 4-acre, $6 million Chinese Reconciliation Park, located along Schuster Parkway overlooking Commencement Bay.

“We are here to remember and ensure that Tacoma never again becomes home to such a terrible event,” said Mayor Bill Baarsma, referring to the events of Nov. 3, 1885, when a racist group that included a city councilman, judge, sheriff, and the mayor forced more than 200 Chinese from their Tacoma homes and businesses. The vacant homes were then looted and burned to the ground.

“They did not deserve to be forcibly expelled from the city,” added Baarsma. “It’s important for the mayor to be here today to redress that grievance. Today, we are turning a page and looking toward the future.”

Friday’s groundbreaking was the result of efforts by the Chinese Reconciliation Foundation Project, an organization spearheaded by Tacoma resident Theresa Pan Hosley and designed to raise money for the creation of a cultural center complete with winding paths, classrooms, exhibits, pavilion, bridge, grotto, and cobbled beach.

The first phase of the project, which is scheduled to begin in January and cost $1.8 million, will include construction of a protective seawall along the 800-foot length of the site, which is owned by the city on land formerly occupied by the National Guard.

City councilmembers approved an ordinance Aug. 16 that allows the City to accept two state grants worth a combined $1,032,320 for the construction of the park. The ordinance also allows the City to accept $20,000 in cash or in-kind equivalents from the Chinese Reconciliation Foundation and the City will match the grant funds with $1,019,679 from the Economic Development Special Revenue Fund, including $497,239 from a previous state legislative grant, for a combined total of $2,017,999 for the park project.

“There were fears this project would never go anywhere,” said Hosley, who joined the foundation in 1992, and recalled bringing her young daughter to board meetings. “After the long wait, we are finally here today to commemorate a new chapter in Tacoma history.”

Dr. David Murdoch recalled how he felt something was amiss in Tacoma shortly after he moved here in 1982. After learning about the Chinese expulsion, Dr. Murdoch said, “It clicked because if a family member has been hurt, ostracized or embarrassed, that has an effect on the family for years.” Dr. Murdoch joined with former City Councilman Robert Evans, former State Representative Art Wang (D-Tacoma) and community activists in 1992 to initiate the reconciliation process.

They formed a citizens committee which, assisted by the city’s Planning and Development Services Department, spent 14 months planning, making community contacts, and creating the preliminary design of a memorial facility.

“”The event today will impact not only Tacoma, but the whole country,”” said Dr. Murdoch. ““People in mainland China know what we are doing today, and that is important.””

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma (second from left), along with other elected officials and community leaders, breaks ground Aug. 19 on the new Chinese Reconciliation Park, located along Schuster Parkway on the shores of Commencement Bay. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)