Three times, these immigrant communities were targeted. Now, they will be honored

A rendering of the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation, which will be built on the lawn behind Bellingham Public Library at Lottie and North Commercial streets.
A rendering of the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation, which will be built on the lawn behind Bellingham Public Library at Lottie and North Commercial streets. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The Chinese were pushed out in 1885, a mob came for East Indian mill workers in 1907, and Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps in 1942.

In 2018, a granite arch will acknowledge those shameful episodes in Bellingham and Whatcom County history, as well as honor the early immigrants from China, India and Japan – and all immigrants who have come to the U.S. for a chance at better lives.

The Arch of Healing and Reconciliation will be made of 10 tons of red granite from India. It will rise 12 feet when it is installed at Lottie and North Commercial streets, on the lawn behind the Bellingham Public Library.

It is expected to go up in April, although a groundbreaking ceremony is set for Sept. 4.

Community members behind the effort describe the arch as a bridge to the past, a marker of what Whatcom County stands for today, and a monument of hope moving forward.

“We are celebrating that these people did persevere, and look where we are today,” said Satpal Sidhu, a Whatcom County Council member and chairman of the Arch Committee.

They see the arch as an object of beauty and inspiration, a gateway into renewal.

“We’re hoping it makes people think and reflect on the past, but that it will generate positive feelings and community spirit,” said Paul Englesberg, a local historian and Ferndale resident who is part of the committee behind the project.

The Arch of Healing and Reconciliation will have bronze plaques with the dates and descriptions. The base will include small granite tiles with “welcome” in different languages, including in honor of the Lummi and Nooksack tribes.

The monument is part of a larger project originally intended to commemorate the anti-“Hindu” riots in 1907, before expanding to honor other immigrants who were rounded up on three separate occasions and forced out of the county:

▪ A campaign of threats, boycotts and vitriol were used against the Chinese in Whatcom County, who were given until Nov. 1, 1885, to leave. They were among thousands of immigrants who were hounded out of towns in the Puget Sound during the fall of 1885 and winter of 1886.

▪ On the night of Sept. 4, 1907, roving gangs roughed up “Hindus” and ordered the mill workers to get out of Bellingham. Although most early 20th century immigrants from India were Sikhs from the Punjab region, it was at that time common in the U.S. and Canada to call all East Indians “Hindu.”

▪ Japanese-American families in Whatcom County were among those forced from their homes on the West Coast and into internment camps after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. That mass removal was made on the grounds of military necessity and national defense after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The last wave of people of Japanese descent were bused out of Whatcom County in June 1942.

Community groups behind the arch include the Lynden Sikh Temple, the initial project funder that has pledged $50,000 in matching funds, and the Whatcom Community Foundation, which also has pledged $25,000 in matching funds.

There’s more to the project than the monument.

The Arch Committee also is working to raise about $2 million. Most of that money will go toward a scholarship fund to help the children of first-generation immigrants go to college.

The money also will be used for an annual ethnic food festival on Labor Day as well.

The project is about vigilance against bigotry – “Let it never happen again,” said Sidhu, who is part of Whatcom County’s Sikh community.

“Yes, this is for all of us,” Sidhu said. “America always attracted people with the promise of freedom, with the promise of liberty.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

If you go

What: Groundbreaking for the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation, which will honor the sacrifices and contributions of Whatcom County’s immigrants.

When: 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Sept. 4, which is the 110th anniversary of the anti-“Hindu” riots in Bellingham. It also is Labor Day.

Where: At Lottie and North Commercial streets, behind the Bellingham Public Library and across from Bellingham City Hall.

Details: Archofhealing.org and on Facebook.

To contribute

Tax-deductible donations to the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation project can be made online at archofhealing.org.

Make checks payable to Whatcom Community Foundation and write Arch of Healing and Reconciliation Project in the memo line. Mail to the foundation at 1500 Cornwall Ave., Suite 202, Bellingham, WA 98225.

As the fiscal sponsor, Whatcom Community Foundation will accept and process donations for the project.