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Paving goodbye 

So I finally watched the movie with the talking dog. You know the one? With the house with the balloons and the dog that rambles on about his master? Also, why have there been so many movies about talking dogs? Anyway, the movie really surprised me, but in a good way, you know? I’d always had the impression it was some kind of sappy love story mixed in with touchy-feely adventure propaganda.

“See the world, kids! Who cares that you already live in paradise? Never mind the fact that your primary imperative should be to establish a stable, reliable career path as early as possible in order to pay off a $700,000 house you could buy anywhere else for $50 and an assortment of buttons!”

That’s what I thought, anyway. Then I watched the movie and realized it was about a crotchety old man who was no longer of any use to society removing himself and flying off to the jungle to make way for progress. Some people might call tying balloons to his house an extreme measure, but I happen to think the old man simply understood that when a shopping mall comes a-knockin’, the socially conscious get their useless old-ass houses full of memories and dust out of the way. Though I suppose that’s not very catchy. Maybe I’ll work on something that rhymes with “knockin’.’”

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Oh, the things we do in the name of progress! One day we’ll sit on the porch of my tract house, which experts say might be as old as 20, and we’ll reminisce about the people we displaced and the cultures we erased to construct this fair paradise. Not that we should feel guilty for our actions. The furthest thing from it! Without us, there wouldn’t be a parking garage on Palm Street. Or another parking garage three blocks down on Marsh Street.

It’s true that we happened to pave over priceless archaeological sites in the process. Don’t you worry your politically correct little head, though. In the grand tradition of white people trampstamping words in a foreign language they don’t actually speak, we made sure to place Chinese characters on the parking garage. I’m told the designs mean double joy and luck or something like that. Personally, I would have gone for triple joy, but it doesn’t really matter because if it truly reflects SLO’s historical treatment of its Chinese residents, it probably says “crackers.”

But what do you expect from a city founded by Europeans who appropriated Native American land; brainwashed, tortured, and drove them to the brink of extinction; and then relied on Chinese immigrants to build their infrastructure before running them out of town in a fit of racism and intolerance when they were done?

And how do we honor these terribly significant and horrifically abused peoples? We let some of the city’s favorite developers—the Copelands—throw together yet another shopping mall, and we call it Chinatown. Never mind that we already drove out the Chinese people. Never mind that thus far the city’s approach to honoring Chinese culture seems to have been inspired by Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride, which may still be more racially sensitive—despite the fact that one of the only buildings left from the era before the city drove the Chinese out is the former Ah Louis store, even though Ah Louis’ actual name was Wong On. He’s the only Chinese figure anyone really knows, and we know him by a name that isn’t really his own.

None of the actual facts have gotten in the way of the city posting “historical” placards downplaying the undeniably racist and violent aspects of the city’s history. Consider the gem tucked into the back of the Palm Street parking garage, playfully characterizing Spanish treatment of Native Americans as “transform[ing] them into productive citizens of the Spanish empire.”

Ah, nothing like the strong, civilizing presence of Europeans with their foreign diseases, eagerness to seize and claim lands that didn’t belong to them, and refusal to allow the area’s original residents to live peacefully on the land they’d occupied for hundreds of years.

Truly, the folks who put up those signs must have a real interesting view on what constitutes “civilization.”

A much better method of paying homage to SLO’s now-miniscule Chinese population would have been to take the artifacts acquired during the brief dig beneath the home of the parking garage, immediately turn them over to an expert, and present a giant display of the pieces once they had been identified. Instead, the city let them rot in a shipping container for 10 years before deciding to take bids on the work. And when the bids finally came in, they severely underfunded the project, forcing the results to drag in at a small trickle.

If the city’s going to insist on calling this small block devoid of any Chinese residents or influence “Chinatown,” at least we could have gone to a local museum for a piece of actual history. Instead, I’m predicting a spate of high-end restaurants and hotels with dragons waving from the exterior façade. If we’re really lucky, maybe the city will pay one of its ambassadors to dress up as a Chinese to-go box and pass out dim sum samples to tourists.


Shredder prefers the term “Shredstory.” Send historical documents to [email protected].

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