Against a backdrop of proposed new restrictions on immigration, Whatcom County officials expressed hope for broader understanding across race, religion and culture as they broke ground for a local monument called the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation.
Some 200 people attended the event Monday morning on the lawn behind the Bellingham Public Library, where the arch will stand by spring 2018. The 10-ton granite monument will honor early immigrants to Whatcom County – especially East Indians, Chinese and Japanese who faced often violent attacks.
“We cannot go back,” said Satpal Sidhu, a member of the Whatcom County Council and chairman of the Arch Committee. “It’s just as important in this community to speak out against hate and violence. Ignoring it is the same as supporting it.”
Monday marked the 110th anniversary of the so-called “Hindu riots” of 1907 that forced some 250 mostly Sikh immigrant timber mill workers to flee Bellingham.
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“We are gathered to re-guarantee the promise of America,” Sidhu said. “We are all children of one creator. No human being is illegal.”
Speakers included Roxanne Murphy, a Bellingham City Council member and a member of the Nooksack Tribe; Jianna Zhang of Western Washington University; and Teizeen Mohamedali, a Kenyan immigrant who’s an engineer with the Washington State Department of Ecology. All spoke of their hope that modern America won’t repeat the mistakes of its past.
Mary Rivkin talked about her childhood in Bellingham as she listened to the speakers.
“Growing up, I never knew any of this. It wasn’t acknowledged,” she said. “It’s timely, especially with everything that’s going on in this country.”