Colorado Asian Pacific United aims to educate Denver about the city’s Chinatown
By Gil Asakawa
Colorado Asian Pacific United, or CAPU, is an organization formed by a small group of AAPI community leaders and allies whose initial goal is to educate Denver about the thriving Chinatown that was once part of the LoDo district – something most people have no idea ever existed.
The only trace left of the Chinatown of the late 1800s is a Lower Downtown historic walking tour plaque mounted on a wall at 20th and Blake Streets, across from Coors Field. The plaque is titled “Hop Alley Chinese Riot of 1880,” and describes a riot that occurred on October 31, 1880 in Chinatown. Thousands of dollars of damage was done, and businesses destroyed, with no compensation ever given to the Chinese victims. One man was beaten to death and hung from a lamp post. Although the Chinese returned and remained in Denver, the Chinatown district was never the same. Today, more recent generations of immigrants from China and Taiwan are scattered throughout the Denver metro area.
The Re-Envisioning Denver’s Historic Chinatown Project was born when members of the Denver AAPI Commission began discussing the objections to the lone plaque commemorating Chinatown – the title is derogatory (“Hop Alley” was a racist term that white people used to describe the opium dens they frequented in the area) and the riot wasn’t a “Chinese Riot,” it was an anti-Chinese riot. The plaque also names three white business owners (including a madame and saloonkeeper) who protected some fleeing Chinese, but doesn’t name Look Young, the Chinese man who was killed. It’s an example of how history is written through a white perspective. A group of DAAPIC members were joined by others including a history professor and two architects who agreed that the historical record needed to be corrected.
The project was born, and CAPU (which in native Hawaiian can mean “sacred place”) was created as an organization with the Chinatown Project as its first effort. CAPU is applying for non-profit status. The organization’s logo represents a turtle, which is a common Asian symbol for longevity, good luck, tenacity and wisdom.
The organization has short- and long-term goals, and the first is to take down the current plaque and replace it with historical markers that would explain more about the Chinatown and the anti-Chinese race riot. Other markers are planned for the site where the riot began, and where Look Young was killed. The group is hoping to hold a public event in August to remove the current plaque, with descendants of families who lived and worked in Chinatown in attendance.
Longer-term goals include a mural on the wall of the building where the plaque currently is mounted that would celebrate the history of Chinese in Denver. Other murals in the LoDo area are also envisioned. An annual Lunar New Year event could be held, and long-term, placing an Asian American Museum in LoDo is a dream goal.
Follow CAPU on Facebook at fb.com/ColoradoAPUnited. CAPU is actively recruiting volunteers for their subcommittees.