Friday, March 30, 2012

Chinese boneyard

Rest in peace
Life is a dream walking; death is a going home. --Chinese proverb 

The southwest corner of Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is a minimally-maintained nondescript lot.  It inters the remains of an unknown number of Chinese people, mostly men, who came to Portland in the 1800s, seeking work as miners, servants, and stevedores. 

Part of Portland's ugly history is that Chinese were subjected to racism and bigotry.  Portland elites were glad to hire them as butlers, gardeners, or laborers, but made no welcome for them.  Chinese were discouraged from settling here.  There was little or no mingling of the races.  "Make your money and go back to China" seems an apt expression of the general sentiment.

Those that died here were buried in the neglected corner of Lone Fir.  No records were kept, nor were individual graves maintained.  No one knows exactly how many persons are buried there.

In 1947, Multnomah County paved over the site and erected a government building.  An attempt was made to remove the human remains, but in 2004, it was discovered that there were yet more.  In a belated attempt to address the affront, the City of Portland razed the building and rejoined the plot with the cemetery.

And there it lies, a nondescript patch of land, strewn with loose gravel and patches of crab grass:  eternal home to people who came here on the promise of opportunity, who helped create what we have today.

Rest in peace.

1 comment:

MLaFayette said...

One would think the Chinese community would have erected some kind of memorial for these people - hmm - how sad. Think of how many of them are strewn across our vast country as they also built our railroads.