As 2024’s Lunar New Year welcomes in the year of the dragon, it is a time of celebration, and also an opportunity to reflect on Eureka’s Chinese past, present and future.
In the late 1800s, anti-Chinese sentiment was pervasive throughout the United States. Chinese immigrants, who had played a crucial role in building local infrastructure, owned laundries, restaurants, and businesses, produced fresh vegetables for the city of Eureka, were subjected to ongoing prejudice and violence, which culminated in 1885 with the forced expulsion of nearly 300 Chinese residents of Eureka in only 24 hours. This became known as the “Eureka Method,” and served as a model for Chinese expulsions in other California cities in the years to follow. The abrupt expulsion of this thriving community and subsequent banishment for 70 years left a scar on Eureka’s history which is still in the process of healing.
Founded in 2021, the Eureka Chinatown Project became part of the Humboldt Asian and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity (HAPI) and has been instrumental in shedding light on this dark chapter in Eureka’s past and working towards genuine reconciliation and cultural growth in the city. Through their efforts, the community has begun to acknowledge the importance of addressing historical injustices and fostering a more inclusive future. Their recent projects include facilitating a new mural, collaborating with the City of Eureka on two interpretive panels and street name, organizing informational walking tours, and paving the way for a monument in Old Town Eureka.
Charlie Moon Way, between E and F Street in Old Town is punctuated by Los Angeles-based Korean American artist Dave Young Kim’s mural, ‘Fowl.’ painted with mural apprentice Cate Be, the thought-provoking artwork flips the script of historically derogatory associations between the Chinese community and their ducks, featuring a vibrantly colored Mandarin duck, which mates for life and symbolizes love and fidelity. The single duck also represents what they sacrificed to pursue better opportunities here. The mural features a portrait of Ben Chin (of Chin’s Café), the first Chinese person to return to Eureka in 1955. The Chinese characters “home town” allude to both their old home in China and the new home in Eureka. The mural serves as a visual reminder of the Chinese community’s ability to overcome challenges and rebuild their lives, contributing to the tapestry of the city. Watch the video below for an interview with the artist.
In 1885, Charlie Moon, a cook and laborer on a nearby ranch, managed to stay, and was said to be the last Chinese person in Humboldt County. He married a local Chilula woman and raised a large family, and today his descendants prosper and are connected to all the local Indigenous tribes. Other Chinese residents also evaded expulsion. Charlie Moon’s resistance was honored in 2021 with the naming of Charlie Moon Way, spearheaded by the Eureka Chinatown Project with the City of Eureka.
Visitors to Old Town Eureka can find interpretive panels, which offer a nuanced understanding of Eureka’s complex history with context and details. While in the area, visitors can also participate in guided walking tours for groups upon request. This initiative, driven by HAPI, fosters a connection between the past and the present, creating spaces for authentic dialogue and reflection.
Watch the 360-degree online walking tour below
As Eureka strives to confront its history and honor the contributions of its Chinese community, the forthcoming Eureka Chinatown Monument will be a significant step forward. Spearheaded by HAPI in collaboration with the City of Eureka and the community at large, the monument will stand as a symbol of remembrance and reconciliation and will celebrate the resilience and diversity of the growing and vibrant Asian community in Eureka.
By highlighting the stories of those who faced expulsion and discrimination, the monument serves as a powerful educational tool, fostering understanding and compassion among future generations. HAPI is currently raising funds to bring the monument to life, and welcomes donations from the public here.
Learn more about Eureka’s Chinese history at www.hapihumboldt.org and take part in their Lunar New Year celebrations:
February 10, 12-3pm: Charlie Moon Way at the ‘Fowl’ mural site
All are welcome to contribute to a community altar to give offerings and pay respect to ancestors and pray for good luck and prosperity in the new year.
February 10, 4pm: Christ Episcopal Church
Book Launch: “The Gray Bird Sings: The Extraordinary Life of Betty Kwan Chinn” by Karen M. Price
Save The Date
May 4, 6-9 pm: Eureka Chinatown Street Festival – Year of the Dragon at Arts Alive
Come celebrate the Year of the Dragon at the Eureka Chinatown Street Festival during AAPI month. The street in front of the Clarke Historical Museum will be filled with Lion dancers, street performances by local Asian artists, Asian food trucks, and more.