Decades ago, members of three immigrant communities were rounded up and forced out of Whatcom County. Now, they and their descendants are being asked to return for an April 21 ceremony that will pay homage to them and others who came to the U.S. seeking better lives.
The arch is an acknowledgment of shameful periods in Bellingham and Whatcom County history, when 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.
Rising 12 feet and weighing 10 tons, the arch will honor those early pioneers from China, India and Japan — and all immigrants who have come to the Pacific Northwest since the 1800s to work and for a chance at new lives, community organizers behind the effort said.
They described the arch as a bridge to the past, a marker of what Whatcom County stands for today and a monument of hope moving forward.
"This is a memorial — a reminder for the next generation. What happened was not right, and it shouldn't happen again," said Satpal Sidhu, a Whatcom County Council member and chairman of the Arch Committee.
The arch will go up as immigration issues continue to divide the country, but those behind the project hope it sparks conversations that will bring people together.
"I hope the kinds of discussion it's going to generate are going to be productive and useful for the community and it won't become a divisive issue, because the intention was to have it be more of a positive unifying symbol," said Paul Englesberg, a local historian and Ferndale resident who is part of the committee behind the project.
The arch will be installed at Lottie and North Commercial streets, next to the lawn behind the Bellingham Public Library.
"We feel very proud and humble that we have been able to accomplish this," Sidhu said.
Nobuye "Pat" (Shima) Kawabata is among those invited to the ceremony.
Then Pat Shima, she was just 6 years old when she and her family were forced out of their homes and into internment camps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
A June 3, 1942, photo taken by a Bellingham Herald photographer shows her clutching a doll, her face partially hidden, as she waited at 1406 H St. for a bus, according to a spring 2006 article by the Whatcom Museum.
It's an iconic photo from a painful time, when 33 residents of Japanese or Japanese-American descent were taken out of Bellingham, according to the article. Pat and her family were taken to Tule Lake in California on their way to an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
Neither she nor her family moved back to Bellingham after World War II.
Now 82 and living in Des Moines, Washington, Kawabata said she will be in Bellingham for the installation ceremony.
"I would like to support, in my small way, the healing and the coming together that this dedication represents," Kawabata said. "It is a way for me to honor my family and friends who cannot be there and also be part of a celebration where my children and grandchildren can understand the hardships of the past. "
She added: "My hope is that they can remember and learn from the events that have occurred and work to see that it is not repeated."
Who they were
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:
▪ In the late 19th century, 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.” Muslims from India also were in the group targeted for removal that night.
Some of the descendants who were ordered out of town in 1907 now live in Yuba City, California, an agricultural community with a sizable Sikh population.
Sidhu, who is part of Whatcom County's Sikh community, has a link to that past.
A granddaughter of Tuli Singh Johl, who was one of the workers in Bellingham in 1907, is married to Sidhu's cousin, Amrik S. Sidhu. They live in Stockton, California.
▪ 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 on Dec. 7, 1941. 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 donor that pledged $50,000, and the Whatcom Community Foundation, which also pledged $25,000.
There’s more to the project than the $75,000 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.
"We believe the best way to honor our ancestors is to educate our future generations," Sidhu said.
The money also will be used for an annual ethnic food festival in Bellingham on Labor Day.
To commemorate those anti-immigrant periods, the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation also will have bronze plaques with the dates and short descriptions of what happened.
But the base also will include 18-inch square black granite tiles with “welcome” in seven languages, with special recognition of Lummi and Nooksack tribes.
RAM Construction is donating its services by preparing the site and installing the arch.
If you go
What: Installation ceremony for the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation, a granite monument that will honor the sacrifices and contributions of Whatcom County’s immigrants.
When: 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 21.
Where: Bellingham City Hall, 210 Lottie St. Sabah Randhawa, president of Western Washington University, will be the keynote speaker. Light refreshments will be served.
Tax-deductible donations to the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation project can be made online at archofhealing.org. Or 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.