Until recently, most people probably wouldn’t have paid a second glance to the small Eureka alley bound by E and F and Fourth and Fifth streets. Many people had no idea that it was once the center of a bustling and vibrant Chinatown or that the Chinese people who lived there were forced to leave during the Chinese Expulsion of 1885.
Now — thanks to the efforts of the Humboldt Asians & Pacific Islanders in Solidarity (HAPI) and its Eureka Chinatown Project — the historic alleyway is getting the attention it deserves and, pending the approval of the Eureka City Council during its next meeting, will soon officially be named “Charlie Moon Way” after a famous Chinese immigrant who remained in Humboldt County when Chinese people were being forced out.
The project first came before the council at a meeting May, during which the council voted to waive the fee for naming the alley. Since then, Project Coordinator Brianne Mirjah told the Outpost, the Eureka Chinatown Project has considered a few different names, including the Toisanese word for “Chinatown.” Mirjah said the team members settled on “Charlie Moon Way” because they wanted to focus more on the people that were there than on the place itself. Moon’s story shines a light on the fact that not all Chinese people left Humboldt in 1885 and that, although the story of Chinese Expulsion is tragic, for some it is also a story of triumph.
“The more we learn about the expulsion, the more we learn that [the Chinese people] were incredibly resilient,” Mirjah said in a recent phone interview. “After they had faced this incredible discrimination, there were still people who resisted and Charlie Moon is sort of a local legend of someone who stayed.”
During the time of the expulsion, Moon worked on Bair’s Ranch in Redwood Creek. The story, Mirjah explained, goes like this: One night a mob showed up to take Moon to the ships that were deporting Chinese immigrants, and Moon’s employer,
Fred Tom Bair, would not let the mob take Moon. “[Bair] said something like ‘you can take Charlie, but you’ll have to go through me and my shotgun,’” Mirjah said. Moon was an integral part of the Bair family, Mirjah added, and he continued to work on the ranch until a fairly old age.
Moon was often referred to as “the last Chinese man” or “the only Chinese man in Humboldt County,” although he was not actually the only Chinese person who stayed in Humboldt after the expulsion, Mirjah said.
The Eureka Chinatown Project was able to gain permission to use Moon’s name from his family, some of whom still live in the area. Moon married Minnie Tom, a local native woman of the Chilula tribe of Redwood Creek, and the two raised eight children and lived out their days in Humboldt and Trinity Counties. Yolanda Latham, Moon and Tom’s
great-great-great granddaughter told the Outpost that today there are descendants of Moon in seven or eight different Native tribes.
Latham said it is an honor to have the alley named for her
great-great-great grandfather. Though she didn’t know him, she remembers the
stories her grandmother would share about him. Latham’s grandmother was very proud of their Chinese heritage, Latham said, something that was not always easy. Latham said her family experienced a lot of discrimination throughout the generations and she has read text that referred to her great-grandmother and her siblings as “half-breeds.”
Latham said she greatly appreciates the efforts of the Eureka Chinatown Project to spread awareness about the history of the Chinese in Humboldt and the Chinese Expulsion, which she had never learned anything about in school.
“HAPI really brought attention to the history of Chinese people here that really has been overlooked,” Lathum said. “ I only knew about it from our oral history, from my grandmother. The textbooks are so dismissive. They miss a lot of native history, Asian history, Black history.”
Latham added that she hopes projects like these can also help her family heal from some of its historic trauma and can help open up the conversation about the racist episodes of our past and the racist attitudes that persist today.
“There’s a lot of healing happening that needs to go on for the next few generations,” she said. “This is one tiny step in the right direction.”
Assuming that the council approves the name, the street sign will then need to be designed and sent to print. Mirjah is not exactly sure what the timeline will be, but she is hoping to hold some sort of naming event near the Lunar New Year on Tuesday, Feb. 1. That time is not only significant because it is the Chinese New year but also because it is near the anniversary of the Chinese Expulsion, which began on Feb. 7, 1885.
In addition to the alley name, the Eureka Chinatown Project will include the installation of wayfinding signs, which are in the process of being printed and will be installed in the City’s informational kiosks along Highway 101 near Old Town. A large, colorful mural celebrating the history of Chinatown was also added to the alley during this year’s Eureka Street Art Festival and the group is working with Coast Central Credit Union to install a memorial monument in the Coast Central parking lot.
Mirjah said that she has been surprised and pleased with the amount of support the Eureka Chinatown Project has received, adding that the project, which started with the simple intention to put up a plaque acknowledging the history of Eureka’s Chinatown, has grown to include so much more.
“With this project we’re really seeing a lot of folks from different parts of California, people from other Asian organizations reaching out,” Mirjah said. “We hope that this [project] will be an example of a way to honor our ancestors and the history of the land we’re on.”
The Eureka City Council will discuss the alley name at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.
CORRECTION: This originally stated that Latham was Moon’s great-great granddaughter and his been changed to reflect that she is his great-great-great granddaughter. The article also misstated the name of Moon’s employer who defended him with his shotgun and has been changed. The Outpost regrets the errors.
CORRECTION TO THE CORRECTION: It turns out that Latham is actually Moon’s great-great granddaughter, not his great-great-great granddaughter. Man, this family history stuff is hard to keep track of!