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de Vos: A scary story

Jon DeVos

Jon DeVos

I had to think of a Halloween horror story to curb my obsession with the Bigly Orange Clown, so I looked back in time for another scary story, one that particularly resonates if you’re Chinese. or even if you simply enjoy the occasional Kung Pao Shrimp.

In 1880, 238 Chinese folks lived in Denver. Legal residents, they were granted work status by the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. Almost to a man, woman and child, they lived in a tiny ghetto bound by Blake and Market from 19th to 22nd street. They served and cooked in wealthy Denver homes and did most of Denver’s laundry. Many of these Chinese came to America for the California Gold Rush but were pushed eastward to build the trans-continental railroad and by racist miners and immigrant haters, most who were first-generation themselves.

At the intersection of Blake and 20th street there is a plaque commemorating their lives and their brief, tiny community. The plaque also answers why Denver has no Chinatown, like many cities of contemporary age and size.

The plaque explains that on Halloween evening, a couple of drunken white guys playing pool picked a fight with a couple of Chinese guys who challenged them back by running out the back door. Not satisfied with victory, the white guys tailed off in hot pursuit, emptying the bar with them.

There was a lot of local consternation regarding the Chinese ghetto, the same area that today is known as Lodo. Back then, it was called “Hop Alley” in reference to the 17 opium dens that interspersed this tiny space, packing them in like today’s dispensaries.

A big problem with the Chinese opium dens was that, while it was fine for white guys to drop in for a toke, white women were also developing a taste for nirvana-by-the-pipe and began to frequent the dens. For white guys, this violated 82 percent of all of God’s laws and they began wearing “Drive ‘Em Out” tunics, precursors to today’s t-shirts.

Alien haters were already in vogue. In 1876, Nederland townsfolk drove out a community of 160 Chinese miners, as Leadville proudly advertised “No Chinese Residents”.

Like today, the nation was in the throes of a hotly-contested election year between James Garfield and Winfield Hancock. It was a roll-in-the-mud battle but Garfield won the popular vote by 2,000, the thinnest margin ever recorded.

The Rocky Mountain News, in a fever of election rhetoric, began to wave anti-Chinese banner headlines, calling them the “Pest of the Pacific” claiming immigration was taking American jobs. The paper pompously cried that job loss would cause white families to starve and drive white women to prostitution.

Opposing voices argued that the only jobs open to these poor, bewildered and displaced Chinese were so menial and ill-paid, no white guy would consider them. On October 28, 1880, the Rocky Mountain News wrote an editorial that promoted running them out of town and things heated up. Literally.

Fast-forward three days to Halloween: remember, the Chinese guys are running for their lives, pursued by a growing mob of drunken white guys. Over the next few hours, the mob grew to more than 3,000 white Denverites who set fire to every Chinese home and business in the ghetto. When the Denver Fire Department arrived, the mob turned and pelted them with stones and bricks until the firemen pulled back and watched as the volatile laundry chemicals incinerated Hop Alley down to the ground. That Halloween night became known as the Hop Alley Riot, as well as the reason you needn’t look for Chinatown in Denver.

Well, if that anecdote didn’t scare you, just wait ’til you open your ballot. Donald Trump disrespects women, disrespects minorities, disrespects all us losers for the taxes we pay, but worst of all, he disrespects America. Vote your conscience, but please examine it first.