LifeWays apologizes for “Rickshaw Rally”

Ten years later, Asian American evangelicals are making their presence felt. Evangelicals are noticing.

Book review of Scott Zesch, _The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871_ (2012).

Cross posting a book review. – Tim Tseng

H-ETHNIC REVIEW

Scott Zesch. The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871. New York Oxford University Press, 2012. Illustrations. xii + 283 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-975876-0.

Reviewed by Sharon Sekhon (The Studio for Southern California History, University of California-Fullerton)

Published on H-Ethnic (March, 2013) Commissioned by Amy J. Johnson

Scott Zesch’s The Chinatown War is an important study about the October 24, 1871, killing of eighteen Chinese men and boys, an event that gave Los Angeles its first international notoriety. In relaying this history, Zesch weaves together the stories and storytelling of this tragic event. Historians have long grappled with nineteenth-century Chinese California but have done so in ways that have privileged a top down and/or institutional approach, relying on the scant historical record: legislation, court records, and public documents. Immigration historians, influenced by Robert Park’s Chicago School of Sociology, have used assimilation as the model from which to measure a success driven narrative of the Chinese experience. Other historians have focused on the possibility or impossibility of the Chinese to ever be considered “American” by dominant nineteenth-century society. More recent histories have included a global consideration of immigration in addition to local networks of support. In this continuum, very little has been written on the Chinese Massacre, and it has been presented as an extension of an Anglo-centered story. The Chinese undoubtedly were victims of a xenophobic and anti-Christian society that exploited their labor and them as political foes when it suited. And the public violence exacted against the Chinese served as immediate and long-term lessons to Chinese immigrants’ place in Los Angeles hierarchy.

Zesch, an independent scholar, drops any attempts at integrating these tidy narratives into a larger historiography. He provides the messy and often contradictory details that make history compelling and perhaps more accessible to our own chaotic lives. Concerned with how cultures clash in different historical contexts, Zesch has authored several significant histories including fictional accounts as well as the acclaimed history of his great-great-great uncle in he Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier (2004). The Chinatown War is a direct and intimate look into one of the most horrific instances of mob violence in Los Angeles history with a focus on the human agents; the complicated series of events during the riots; and the role of Los Angeles’ law enforcement before, during, and after the massacre. Not only does Zesch aptly put this event into its proper contexts, but he also demonstrates the diverse responses by Los Angelenos to the Chinese. Whenever possible, Zesch uses the testimony and writings of the Chinese to share their hitherto unshared point of view. This book is a recovery project that gathers new information on the years leading up to the 1871 event and subsequent court cases.

The Chinatown War is organized into two sections. Part 1 explores the foundations of Chinese life in Los Angeles, documenting the reasons individuals came to California; the lawlessness in the area, the societies and institutions that the Chinese formed to navigate and prosper in such a hostile environment; and the much-publicized differences between the Chinese and the rest of the population. Part 2 builds on the foundations established in part 1 to show how these factors shaped the events leading up to the Chinese Massacre. Zesch breaks new ground in sharing not only the details of the night, but also the events leading up to October 24 that were three years in the making; the massacre was one in a series of hate crimes against the Chinese. As the book’s title conveys, that day was brutal in a war on the Chinese and not an isolated event. Sources include court records, newspaper accounts, and memoirs from Anglo-American “pioneers” from the mid- to late nineteenth century. Zesch shows that much of the vitriolic rhetoric against the Chinese in local newspapers was reprinted from publications in San Francisco and northern California, home to the nativist Workingmen’s Party.

Missing from Zesch’s investigation is an in-depth analysis of the sources. The author undoubtedly provides a critical lens to all of the content and discusses the impermanence of the Chinese from historical memory. However, a more thorough examination of the motivations behind the local presses and memoirs would substantiate this telling of the Chinese experience in the mid- to late nineteenth century.

This book is rich with reproduced source material. Included are advertisements, photographs, drawings, and maps from local archives, such as the Huntington Library and the Seaver Center for Western History Research. Zesch’s informative captions provide a visual materiality to the detailed history. For example, included is a nondescript black-and-white photograph from the Seaver Center with the following caption: “This 1869 photograph shows Commercial Street from its T-intersection with Main Street, looking east toward Herman Heinsch’s two-storied saddle and harness shop (which was replaced by the present-day Federal Building). Three Chinese were hanged from a wagon parked on the south (right) side of the street”. The Chinatown War situates its subjects geographically whenever possible, and provides information on the site of an event in relationship to its current location.

While the entire book is captivating, chapter 4, “Daughters of the Sun and Moon,” on the wretched lives of Chinese women is especially illuminating. It provides an unflinching look at Los Angeles’ seen and public Chinese women and extrapolates on the lives of hidden married Chinese women. Zesch demonstrates how the conditions for human trafficking and treatment of Chinese women left some of them continually brutalized and dying alone, destitute in back alleys.

The Chinatown War is an ideal candidate for educators teaching courses on Los Angeles and the history of the West, as well as general surveys on the nineteenth century, sociology, and American studies. While the book uses Los Angeles as its example, the lessons drawn from this case study are applicable to a nation that continues to struggle with immigration, controlled networks of information, and its history.

Citation: Sharon Sekhon. Review of Zesch, Scott, The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871. H-Ethnic, H-Net Reviews. March, 2013.

URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=37048

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

What the U.S. elections are saying to Asian American evangelicals

More than 73% of the Asian Americans who voted chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney last Tuesday. This was 11% more than the 2008 elections. Some pundits speculate that the high percentage of non-Christians among Asian Americans may have been turned off by the Christian rhetoric within the GOP. This argument doesn’t really work since African Americans and Hispanics are predominantly Christian and voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Others suggested that communitarian values of the Democratic Party were more attractive than the Republican virtue of individualism.

What does the election results say to Asian American Christian leaders – especially the evangelicals who urged a return to traditional family values? Shall these leaders join the chorus of conservative Christians who are now denouncing America? As an Asian American evangelical who has strong sympathies with progressive politics, I will not gloat. Actually, I hope that my brothers (mostly) and sisters who have allied themselves with conservative politics will not give up. I hope they will continue to inspire our communities to engage politics and contribute to the common good.

But I also hope that they are open to what I believe the elections are saying to them. Here are a couple of thoughts. I’d very much like to hear others.

1. Many Asian American evangelicals are seriously out of touch with Asian Americans, other minorities, women, and the working class.

Let’s resist the temptation to call Obama supporters “takers” and “dependents” as some conservatives are doing. Asian American evangelical leaders who uncritically embraced the religious right have not paid enough attention to what is happening in their own communities. Instead, I hope that they’ll actually listen to what Asian Americans and other member of the Obama coalition are saying. Paying as much attention to Asian American studies scholars as to James Dobson would be a helpful first step. Most Asian Americans live in diverse urban metropolitan regions. There are so many opportunities to meet and learn from the people in these regions. It’s as if Jesus has sent Asian American evangelicals into the highways and by-ways of life to deliver invitations to his welcoming banquet where new friendships can be formed. This is an opportunity to really listen to the hearts of people!

2. Many Asian American evangelicals must broaden the social issues they advocate

It is time to acknowledge that their fellow Asian Americans (including many who are in their pews) are far more sophisticated than many evangelical leaders give them credit for. Despite the poor economy and despite the embrace of abortion rights and same sex marriage in the Democratic platform, racial minorities that are largely Christian still voted for Obama. I believe that the politics of white resentment was a major reason that Asian American and the other racial minority voters swung to Obama. Asian Americans were well aware of the racial undertones uttered by many Republicans. The GOP’s “little tent” strategy of appeasing the shrinking conservative white male base finally collapsed as racial minorities, young people, and women chose Obama’s vision of a more inclusive America. Few elections in recent history have highlighted the important of social justice for the marginalized as this one. Thus, Asian American evangelicals leaders must broaden their range of concerns or risk not only alienating the wider Asian American community, but intensifying the “silent exodus” from their own congregations. They will gain a more comprehensive life-affirming biblical vision for social engagement when they broaden the social issues they espouse.

Going forward, I hope that Asian American evangelical leaders will reject the rhetoric of scapegoating and demonization. I hope they will show greater civility and compassion to those who are different or disagreeable. I hope they will acknowledge their own history of being scapegoated – and as they explore this history, I hope they will discover that it is better to safeguard civil and religious liberties and social justice for all than to curtail the liberties of a few. What do you think?

Asian American Ministry and the Deconstruction of Asian American Christianity (Webinar)

This webinar was held on Oct 26, 2011.
My appreciations to Judson Press and the Rev. Florence Li (American Baptist Churches, USA) for sponsoring it.
OVERVIEW
Like many churches in North America today, Asian American churches are experiencing the loss of their young adults. The new “Silent Exodus” is also about the erasure of Asian American identity and history within American Christianity. Will being Asian American matter in a “post-racial” generation? What does the deconstruction of Asian American Christianity mean for ministry to Asian Americans? What can Christians do to respond to this crisis? Join presenter Dr. Timothy Tseng as he explores and addresses these critical issues.
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The webinar can be downloaded here
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To view other webinars sponsored by Judson Press go to:

Five Cries of Asian American Christian Young Adults resource

Posted March 7, 2011 on ISAAC blog [http://isaacblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/five-cries-of-asian-american-christian-young-adults-resource-available/]

After presenting the “Five Cries of Asian American Christian Young Adults” at a ISAAC Nor Cal workshop in Nov 2010, the Evangelical Formosan Church, LA’s Bridging Conference in Feb 26-28, and at the Bay Area Sunday School Convention on Mar 5, I’ve finally finalized the written presentation! It is posted at this link:

[download Tim Tseng’s Five Cries of Asian American Christian Young Adults pdf]

The updated powerpoint presentation is here:

Peter Wang’s presentation is here:

To contact Peter Wang and to receive Josh Lee’s presentations about retaining and reaching Asian American Young Adults, contact them directly at these links:

Rev. Peter Wang
English Pastor
Southbay Chinese Baptist Church, San Jose, CA
* * *
Rev. Josh Lee
English Pastor
Crossing English Ministry
Chinese for Christ Church, Hayward, CA
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