Tacoma’s Chinese Reconciliation Park: reconciling or guilt-mongering? Either way, it’s going to be a nice park…
Chinese Reconciliation Park in Tacoma was open to the public for a few hours more than a week ago, and the trash barrel was still full Sunday when we went to have a look. We missed the show-off time because we were watching the Tall Ships Parade of Sail from a very good vantage point down the waterfront a ways, and because we honestly didn’t know anything about the new park at the time.
For now, the new park is fenced off from public access until it officially opens. I couldn’t imagine what harm we could do, bypassing the fence, walking along the inviting, step-like rocks, and entering the park bounds to have a look. There was no sign on the chain link fence warning us off as potential trespassers, but when we entered by the beach rocks, a motorcycle cop immediately pulled up next to the park. Being telepaths, we got the message, and walked back out of the park along the rocks. Evidently, the Enforcer of Reconciliation was satisfied that we felt sufficiently warned.
The park commemorates a horrific event in Tacoma’s history. In 1885, the mayor, a judge, the sheriff, and other upstanding citizens, forced the entire Chinese population to leave the city. First, they were simply ordered to leave, and hundreds did. Those remaining were escorted at gunpoint to a corral and forced to board trains to Portland. Their homes, businesses, and possessions were burned. The Tacoma City Council made an official apology for the atrocities in 1993.
There is no question that the expulsion, known as “The Tacoma Method,” was a bad and very brutal thing. History abounds with bad and very brutal things. Tacoma isn’t the only city that expelled Chinese people under unpleasant circumstances. Other Rocky Mountain and Western cities did similar things. I don’t know whether other cities have purchased atonement by building parks.
I honestly suspect that one motive of erecting this park is to make us (who don’t happen to be Chinese) feel guilty: aware, as it were, of some collective sin. Later phases of the park call for a pavilion and classrooms, perhaps to make sure we learn our multicultural lessons well this time.
Whenever one party feels the need for reconciliation, there is an implication that another party has committed a wrong, and peace can only be achieved through bilateral engagement until the wronged party is convinced that the other party understands his part in the wrong.
I think ascription of collective guilt is wrong. I believe in individual accountability for wrong rendered: wrongs of the heart, as well as wrongs enacted to others’ detriment. The Ninth Commandment, which calls for building one another up as well as not impugning one another, is controlling law in this sphere of human dynamics.
I do not find reconciliation particularly necessary in this case, because I wasn’t here in 1885. Even if I believed in ancestral blood guilt, I had no ancestors here in 1885. They were busy working for a future that would make possible their childrens’–my grandparents’–departures from Europe, where they had their own problems.
When we left Sunday, I thought the fenced-off park resembled a reverse internment camp more than it suggested a symbol of reconciliation. I thought I would leave it to those who need to relive the wrongs done by other people, to other people, more than 120 years ago.
But I returned Monday for another look, and to take what pictures I could through the fence. I ran into my friend Frank Wells, a City of Tacoma Construction Inspector, working at the site. Frank took me for a tour of the park.
The rock feature below the foot bridge is extravagant, wonderful, alluring, but alas for my inner mountain goat, not for climbing. We walked across the foot bridge, and Frank pointed out the man-made beach. Crews had to work at night, when the tide was out, to build up the beach to withstand erosion. Plantings are at various stages of establishment and transition. One of three phases is nearing completion, and more private money is needed to complete the $12 million development plan.
Some bloggers and newspapers have reported Chinese Reconciliation Park will open at the end of this month, but Frank Wells says the actual opening time is still uncertain. When it opens, it will be a very attractive adjunct to the two-mile waterfront park system along Ruston Way.
Visitors will enjoy the view of Commencement Bay, Vashon Island, Brown’s Point, and the USNS Cape Intrepid and the USNS Cape Island, when they’re docked. Apparently some don’t favor the ships’ presence, but I find that incredibly foolish. The Coast Guard donated the property the park now occupies. The Army Corps of Engineers worked with developers to build the seawall. This is hardly the park from which the very sight of a military presence should be considered offensive.
The Cape Intrepid and Cape Island are Roll on/Roll off ships, and are part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet. They stay in layberth in Tacoma when not in service. Tacoma is home to Ft. Lewis Army Base and McChord Air Force Base. This isn’t the sort of town where you depose military vessels to somehow mellow the scenery for “harmony and reconciliation.” Besides, the ships are a longtime and thrilling part of our waterfront scenery.
Reconciliation Park is going to be another very enjoyable place in Tacoma, if the shadows of the past don’t block out the sunshine.