“Victims were hauled from their hiding places, kicked, beaten, stabbed, shot and tortured by their captors,” said Huang, 64, a Scripps College music professor, who produced and recently released a podcast about the massacre entitled, “Blood on Gold Mountain.”
“Some were dragged through the streets with ropes around their necks and hanged from a wooden awning over a sidewalk, a covered wagon or the crossbeam of a corral gate,” Huang said. “Lynching victims included a 14-year-old boy and the Chinese community’s only physician.”
Because the massacre was left out of history books, Huang had to piece together what happened from old newspapers and academic articles, filling in gaps with his own family’s immigration experience. He spoke with About US about why he created the podcast.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
About US: Why make this podcast?
There’s very little on Asian American history. There’s one podcast that I could find, but very little mention of the L.A. Chinatown massacre. There were 35 towns where violence against Chinese happened. This is not just a horrible thing that happened once. It happened again and again.
Why make the massacre the focus of a podcast?
I never felt comfortable in L.A. Chinatown. It felt like an artificial movie set to me. When I found out that it was not the original Chinatown, that 1871 L.A. Chinatown massacre had burned down the first L.A. Chinatown, I just thought, “Why haven’t I ever heard of this before, either on the East Coast or even in L.A.?” I was really disturbed. My children had never been taught about it in their L.A. school district schools for 12 years. So, I wanted to know why. I’ve been raised Chinese by my parents, so I wanted to honor those dead by remembering their past. Because, you know, the whole thing about bones, you have to bury the bones or else the ghosts will go hungry and they’ll wander.
Why the podcast name, “Blood on Gold Mountain”?
“Gold Mountain” is the name that Chinese people used for California, even America. So I used to joke Chinese love America because we give it such beautiful names, but America doesn’t seem to love us.
What led to this massacre?
There was a sense that Chinese were taking jobs. It’s the same blame game of immigrants now, that they’re bringing in crime. There was a lot of scapegoating.
What happened during the massacre?
There were two gangs who were fighting over a woman. … One of the members was arrested and his gang leader paid with cash, his bail, which was huge — it would be the equivalent of $50,000 now. And so when the police found out about it and the hangers-on, they tried to rob the gang leader. [There was a shootout] and a bar owner died. And so, that triggered it. Five hundred people came and killed nearly 20. They were just grabbing whatever Chinese they could find on the street and in their homes. They were bragging about how many Chinese they killed. Some people were charged, about 20 people were gathered up, but they just spent a few days, nights in jail. And eventually, even though some of them seemed like they were going to be convicted because there was proof that they killed these people, the California Supreme Court vacated all charges.
How did you go about figuring out what happened?
Nobody can agree what exactly happened because it was such chaos. … I’ve done a lot of research. There’s a wonderful book called “The Chinatown War,” but also a bunch of academic articles. And also, I went to original sources since I’m a professor. There was the Los Angeles Star, the Los Angeles News — they all contradicted each other. Eyewitnesses contradicted each other, and they even changed their own stories over the years. So, there’s no way to decide what really happened because we’ll never know. But those experiences that are described in the podcast are often drawn from my own family’s memories and histories. You know, what they went through in China, what they experienced when they came here because it’s the same. They left because of war and civil war.
Can you tell me more about your family and where you grew up?
I grew up in a racist little town in New Jersey, Kinnelon. The sheriff and the mayor were known publicly as members of the KKK. They burnt crosses in my yard. We were the only Chinese in town. I endured a lot of racist abuse for six years, from the time I went to kindergarten to 11 or 12, including being run over by a car by a sheriff’s deputy. As a kid, you just get used to it. You just think, “Oh, that’s normal life.” People beat me up every day. But what hurt me the most was the teachers who would turn their back. No adult in my town ever stopped the beatings. It’s other people who are underrepresented or who are economically depressed, they turn on each other to prove to you that they’re American, that they’re more American. I used to say as I got older that I was more responsible for White people feeling American than anybody else because after they beat me, they felt they were Americans.
How much explaining did you feel you need to do in the podcast about Chinese culture?
I don’t want to feel as though my job is always to explain what Chinese culture is because no one explained what White culture is to me. I had to learn it. So I feel as though if people are interested enough in learning about the story, then they’re going to have to learn about it.
What do you hope listeners get out of your podcast?
It educates us to understand that we’re not alone, we’re not just a victimized singularity. It’s important not only to protest and demonstrate but to tell our stories to convince the U.S. mainstream that we are real people with a real history in this country. We can become a group when we honor other people’s stories. We can learn to value each other as human beings. Racism just doesn’t just hurt the victims of violence by denying their humanity. It destroys the perpetrators’ humanity.