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Children's book tells story of Bay Area Chinese-American girl's civil rights fight in 1885

Children's book tells story of SF Chinese-American girl who fought exclusion from school
Children's book tells story of SF Chinese-American girl who fought exclusion from school 04:51

Several years ago, Traci Huahn, who is now a retired attorney, was researching Asian civil rights cases when she came across the file Tape vs. Hurley – a historic 1885 case pitting an 8-year-old Chinese American girl versus the San Francisco school board.

"I was really surprised I did not know Mamie Tape's story. I grew up in the Bay Area, and it was surprising to me that this history wasn't taught in schools," said Huahn.

That is when Huahn decided to tell the story herself. And this week, her debut children's book, "Mamie Tape fights to go to school," was officially released.

"It such an important story; it is a local story. It is really an American story," said Huahn.

In 1885, only three years after President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Mamie Tape tried to enroll in San Francisco's Spring Valley Elementary School but was denied because of her race.

"San Francisco didn't allow Chinese children in at schools," wrote Huahn in her book.

But Mamie's family was able to hire lawyers to fight the discrimination, and in 1885, the California State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tape.

"Mamie won her case, and the court actually ordered the school to admit her into the school," said Huahn, who researched the case for several years. "But the school board and superintendent were able to find ways to prevent Mamie from attending school there."

The school denied Tape because she was not vaccinated, and because they claimed their classrooms were too full. But the case did force the school district to open the Chinese Primary School, which still stands today on Clay Street, now called Gordon Lau Elementary.

"So, it was a partial victory for Mamie Tape," said Huahn. "It did affirm the right of Chinese children to receive a public-school education."

On Wednesday, Huahn was able to read her book to students at Spring Valley Elementary, which is the oldest school in California, to share the history of the school and city.

During the assembly, children listened to the complex story and seemed to grasp the meaning.

"The book tells the history of the school, about how the Chinese couldn't come," said Henry Wong. "But because of Mamie Tape now they can."

"If Mamie Tape wasn't here, most of us wouldn't be here," said Alvin Huang.

"It really is a special moment to be able to share that history," said Huahn.

"And I think it is wonderful that the school embraces their history."

For Huahn, the visit was a full circle moment for San Francisco history and Mamie Tape's story.

"I felt almost a duty to tell her story, and so I feel she would be glad and proud to share it here at the school today," Huahn said.

On Thursday, Traci Huahn was scheduled to give the same reading and presentation at the Gordon Lau Elementary.

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