Tacoma’s Chinese park planting roots —

Tacoma’s Chinese park planting roots

By Lee Bedard; March 10, 2007 © Northwest Asian Weekly

Visitors to the Tacoma waterfront will soon be able to take a symbolic walk with Chinese immigrants who were chased from Tacoma 122 years ago.

Chinese Reconciliation Park, conceived more than 10 years ago as a way to heal wounds from the 1885 expulsion of most of Tacoma’s Chinese immigrant population, is taking shape along Schuster Parkway on Commencement Bay. Construction equipment is redoing a seawall, preparing a “grotto” where tides can flow in and out, and setting in steel pilings that will eventually be used to support a pagoda and bridge.

Construction could be finished as early as the end of April, but definitely by summer, said Bart Alford, urban planner for the City of Tacoma.

When this phase is completed, the public will be able to walk along the shore near two opposing mounds of earth, one a dragon shape and the other a tiger, and reflect on the economic and racial tensions that culminated in the forced movement of some 600 Chinese immigrants to Portland by train in 1885. Anti-Chinese sentiment had taken hold of much of the West Coast during an economic downturn in the 1880s. Those expelled from Tacoma represented most of the ambitious Chinese immigrant community, leaving it a city with little evidence of those early residents.

Those long-ago residents will be represented in the first phase with a series of tableaux or stone tablets featuring shadowy images of people. The tablets will diminish in size, representing the fading out of the once-vibrant Chinese community in Tacoma. Although there is a small Chinese community today, Tacoma has no Chinatown.

At the park’s groundbreaking in 2005, Native American and Buddhist participants danced and prayed to begin a process of healing. Bill Baarsma, Tacoma’s mayor at the time, offered an official apology for the 19th-century wrongs.

Dr. David Murdoch, who moved to Tacoma in the 1980s, originally proposed a reconciliation process.

The park is a project of the City of Tacoma’s Economic Development Department in cooperation with the Chinese Reconciliation Park Foundation, which continues to seek donations and grants. The nearly $4 million collected so far has come from the City of Tacoma, the state Legislature, the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation and private donors. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $6 million.
Phase one will cost about $2 million.

Mike Perfetti, a landscape designer with J.A. Brennan and Associates, said the present work must stabilize the waterfront, which had accumulated years’ worth of sawdust. As a result, the planned Gold Mountain pavilion and String of Pearls bridge will rest on the pilings now being put in place.

Working with the Brennan firm on the park is Joe Y. Wai Architects.

“Gold Mountain” refers to the historic Chinese description of America, a supposed promised land in which gold was available for the taking.

Theresa Pan Hosley, president of the Chinese Reconciliation Park Foundation and owner of travel agencies in Tacoma and Seattle, said the group is planning a May 22 event to bring donors and the public up to date on the progress. No location has yet been set for the event, though Hosley said the Tacoma Art Museum is one possible venue.

Hosley said her personal hope is for completion of the whole project within two years. But, “like everything,” it depends on fund-raising success, she said. “It is not easy.”

The completed project will include space for classes and meetings.

Hosley has invited Gov. Chris Gregoire to attend the May 22 event, and to make a formal announcement of an unsolicited $100,000 bequest from the estate of the late Dr. Amy Tsen Wen Yu, an oncologist and longtime supporter of the project.

Lee Bedard can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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