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Antioch Establishing Chinatown District; Officials Apologize For City's Racist History

ANTIOCH (CBS SF) -- Antioch city officials gathered Wednesday to announce a series of efforts the city is taking on to honor the Asian American community and distance the city from its racist past.

With the nation focusing on poor treatment of Asian people, Antioch officials reached back 145 years to acknowledge and make amends for a shameful chapter in the city's history.

As attacks on Asian Americans continue across the nation, it's inspired officials like Mayor Lamar Thorpe to speak out and take action. Among the plans in the city of 100,000 people is to reestablish the historic Chinatown district in the city's downtown area, a giant mural celebrating the local Asian community and an apology from the city for terrorizing Asian immigrants years ago.

At the press conference, Thorpe said these announcements came as the nation faces a serious uptick in attack on Asian Americans.

Antioch Mayor Thorpe
Antioch Mayor Thorpe speaks at press conference regarding city re-establishing Chinatown district. (KPIX)

"Every day it seems like all of us are witnesses to some of the most jarring headlines on social media, in our local and national television news outlets, and our newspapers ," Thorpe said.

The press conference came just after Thorpe learned of an attack in his city.

"Last night I received notice from our chief police officer that two Asian women, ages 50 and 70, were violently attacked and robbed at Antioch's only Asian American grocery store Country Square Market," Thorpe said. "Our Police Department is investigating this matter and will look into whether or not this was a possible hate crime."

Thorpe also noted the city's racist past: in 1886, Antioch's historic Chinatown was burned down and later replaced by a plaza where Asian Americans weren't allowed.

"As Mayor, I want to express my deepest sympathies to the AAPI community," Thorpe said. "Their contributions and actions in the community have not always gone unnoticed."

Despite having been put on the map by the Transcontinental Railroad and the Delta levees that were built by the immigrant labor force, Antioch also passed a law forbidding Chinese people from being out at night. Later, it was discovered the community built secret underground tunnels between buildings so they could make it home safely. Some of them still exist under the older buildings on 2nd Street.

"It's very ingenious and very resourceful," said Antioch Historical Society President Dwane Eubanks. "It's like, you want us out of town but we need to be here, so if you don't want to see us at night, we'll take the tunnels."

Despite the historic contributions of the Chinese community, Eubanks said there is little evidence at the Antioch Historical Museum the Chinese were ever here.

The mayor said the city not only plans to restore its Chinatown district, it will fund a permanent exhibit at the Antioch Historical Museum. He then read a proclamation denouncing racist attacks on Asian Americans.

"I do hereby proclaim that racism against Asians and Asian Americans shall not be tolerated in any form and we stand in support of individuals and communities targeted by association of COVID-19 and urge everyone to interrupt instances of racism and intolerance by speaking up in support of your equity and justice and inclusion," Thorpe said.

Andy Li, a Chinese-American and President of Contra Costa Community College, accepted the proclamation on behalf of Asian and Pacific Islander residents.

"When you do something wrong and you don't apologize, you may just repeat it because, so what?" he said. "But if people apologize, it means they realize it and they will not do it again. So this is very important to our community."

It took generations for Asians to return to Antioch. In 1960, 99.9 percent of Antioch residents were white. But in the 2010 census, white people became a minority for the first time, with 10 percent of the population identifying as Asian-Americans.

While Wednesday's proclamation doesn't make up for what happened, at least history is no longer being ignored.

John Ramos contributed to this story.

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