The alleyway between E and F Streets and Third and Fourth Streets near Old Town Eureka, which was once the center of Eureka’s Chinatown neighborhood, will soon be renamed and redecorated as a part of the Eureka Chinatown Project — an effort to educate the community on the history of the Chinese people who once lived in the area and why they were forced to leave.
Project Coordinator Brieanne Mirjah gave a presentation on the project during Tuesday’s Eureka City Council meeting, starting with some background on the Chinatown neighborhood and the Chinese expulsion from Humboldt in 1885. Though the expulsion is largely attributed to a shootout between rival Chinatown gangs, during which a Eureka councilmember was shot and killed, Mirjah said during the presentation, the fact is that there was a rising anti-Asian sentiment during that time.
“Of course, not every Chinese person was expelled from Humboldt County,” Mirjah said to the council. “But there was virtually no population here and unfortunately that void has greatly affected the Chinese representation today and we hope that this project is a stepping stone to reverse that. I want to help create a culture where my children not only feel included, but welcome here.”
The official name and design for the alley’s sign is still in progress, Mijrah said, but it will likely be “Chinatown” in Toisanese — the dialect that was spoken by the Chinese people who lived here before the 1885 expulsion. In addition to the alley renaming, the project will include the addition of a commemorative plaque that will focus on the role of the Chinese community here and why they left. Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the council waived the fee to rename the alley.
In collaboration with the Humboldt Asians and Pacific Islanders (HAPI) and the Eureka Street Art Festival, the Chinatown project will also include the installation of a mural in the alleyway behind the Savage Henry Comedy Club. The project is currently soliciting artists, Mirjah said, to paint a piece that will “celebrate the history and culture of the Chinese before the expulsion and tie-in to the Chinese community currently in Humboldt.” The mural will be painted during this year’s festival, August 7 through 14.
The Eureka Chinatown Project is also working with the City to add information to the city’s informational kiosks and wayfinding signs, which city staff is currently working on updating. The signs will point tourists in the direction of the historic Chinatown neighborhood and two of the kiosks will include panels with information on the life and history of the Chinese people in the area. Eventually, the project will also include signage on the Waterfront focusing on the 1906 expulsion — another horrifying event that occurred after a salmon cannery brought in Chinese workers to the ire of many white citizens.
Of course, Mirjah pointed out, there is only so much information that can fit on a sign, so the project will also include tours with more in-depth information about the expulsions and the life and contributions of the Chinese people of Humboldt. At first, the tours will be digital and self-guided, Mirjah said, and guided walking tours will be added when we have made it through the pandemic.
“We’re very excited to launch this multi-faceted project,” Mirjah said at the end of Tuesday’s presentation. “I’m proud to say it’s a full community effort. With the support of city officials and local businesses, we’re about 25 individuals made up of Chinese and Asian Americans and allies. We have historians, HSU staff and community members on this project.”