DENVER — Members of Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU) and Denver’s Asian American Pacific Islander Commission are working to remove a plaque in Lower Downtown (LoDo) they say perpetrates negative stereotypes and omits important details about a historic race riot.
“In the 1800s, there was a thriving Chinatown in LoDo and it was a significant part of the population. Unfortunately, there was a race riot in the 1880s and that basically pushed out the Chinese population,” said 17-year-old Kai Vong, a member of CAPU.
Vong said there is no trace of the Asian American history of LoDo, except for a plaque at the corner of 20th Street and Blake Street.
“But it doesn’t even accurately describe what even happened,” Vong said.
“On Oct. 31, 1880 at a pool hall, a fight broke out between two Chinese immigrants and four white men and the fight spilled out onto the street,” said journalist and Asian American community member Gil Asakawa. “While the Chinese were fleeing, one man was caught, beaten to death, and hung from a lamp post. His name was Look Young.”
The plaque references one person who died but does not mention Young by name.
“But that same plaque mentions by name three white business owners who took in Chinese and protected them. That’s great that they were being allies but it just seems off when you’re relating the history of something this awful to mention the names of three allies, but not mention any of the Chinese,” Asakawa said.
Vong and Asakawa said another problem with the plaque is the header which reads “Hop Alley/Chinese riot of 1880.”
“’Hop Alley’ is a derogatory term. It basically assumes that all Chinese people were ‘hopped’ off opium. It was in reference to the many opium dens that were in Denver,” Vong said.
Asakawa said the other part of the header, “Chinese Riot,” is incorrect.
“It’s an anti-Chinese race riot, not a Chinese riot. So it gives the wrong impression right away,” Asakawa said.
Asakawa, Vong, and other members of CAPU are working with the city to have the plaque removed and replaced with a more accurate representation of the history of the area.
“We would love to do that before or during All-Star Weekend, when the world is watching here in Denver,” Asakawa said.
One challenge the group has faced is getting in contact with the owner of the building to receive permission to remove the plaque. But Asakawa said the city is helping connect the group with the owner.
Meanwhile, CAPU has started raising money to replace the plaque. The group said they’ve already received a donation from Molson Coors.
The organization is also planning several educational events during MLB All-Star Weekend.