It took nine years to complete, but Saturday closed a dark chapter of Astoria history to fix a decades’ long mistake.

The Garden of Surging Waves, a Chinese-Astorian commemorative park, officially opened to the public, following a morning ceremony which hosted leaders, community members, donors, and the Chinese-Americans who can still remember a time when the Chinese were treated like second-class citizens.

“Astoria, Oregon, is going to get just a little bit better today,” Mayor Willis Van Dusen said. “What we are doing today is dedicating a beautiful park that tells a story. It is a story of the American pioneers that came here from China to make Astoria and the northwest a better place to live. The story was never told properly, in fact I think intentionally, the story of the contribution of the Chinese-Americans.

“It was a mistake it wasn’t told and we’re correcting that now with our bicentennial gift.”

Van Dusen led the ceremony and thanked those who have helped with the garden since the project began in the mid-2000s. Originally intended for Ninth and Astor streets, city leaders seized an opportunity in 2011 – the same year as the bicentennial – to relocate the park to 11th and Duane streets. A portion of that Duane Street block collapsed at the site of the former Safeway store in late 2010. From then on, “the hole in the ground,” as community members quickly began referring to it, lent itself to an idea to create a city block called Heritage Square that would include the garden as one portion.

The Garden of Surging Waves, at more than $1 million, is the first phase of the project. It broke ground with a ceremony in April 2012. Construction began in early 2013. The hole is still present and will become an amphitheater in the three additional phases of the project.

“At one time, over 25 percent of Astoria was Chinese,” Van Dusen said. “The Chinese brought the railroad to Astoria. The Chinese coolies, a term for a Chinese laborer, worked in the seafood plants. This story was not told and it is now told with the Garden of Surging Waves. The good and the not so good.

“You’ll see a sign in there that says ‘Chinese seen fishing will be shot.’ We are not leaving out any of the history of their contribution to this area. This is not a park about China. This is U.S. history. This is American history.”

During Saturday’s festivities, Oregon Sen. Betsy Johnson, Arlene and Jordan Schnitzer, and Rep. Deborah Boone were among those who were seated on the stage and shared a few words.

A moment of silence was also held for those involved with the Garden of Surging Waves but who didn’t live to see its completion, such as Art DeMuro and Duncan Law.

Natalia DeMuro, the daughter of the late Art DeMuro, congratulated the city on its “amazing” accomplishment. Flora Law, the widow of Duncan, said she knew her husband was celebrating the accomplishment from above.

“I am sure he is looking down on us today with a big smile on his face,” Flora Law said. “Because he would be so happy to know that it has come to pass that the city now has a beautiful new park.”

Law was the first to bring the Chinese-Astorian history to Van Dusen’s attention. Described as “courageous” by Johnnson, Law educated Van Dusen who at one point had asked “What’d you guys do?” Admittedly, Van Dusen and many other Astorians were unaware of the Chinese contributions. Until now.

“What a special spot this is and what a wonderful addition to the landscape of Astoria, to our state and to our region,” Johnson said. “We should be thinking about Duncan Law today whose courageous comment was the catalyst for this tribute to the Chinese contribution to the northwest.”

She also thanked Suenn Ho, the designer of the project, for her “delicate” work with the garden. Ho was also acknowledged for her help in raising $119,000 on her own to help fund the project. Arlene Schnitzer was recognized for her $250,000 donation she gave at her son Jordan’s fundraising dinner at his home in Portland last year.

“Astoria, you are very cool,” Ho said. “You have helped us to understand how important it is to listen to other people’s stories. And you have so many stories to tell. Everyone has a story, and I think we owe you the park here that needs to be finished. We will continue on. This is just phase 1.”

Heritage Square is an estimated $4 million project. It will feature a space for the Sunday Market, the amphitheater and a park setting to celebrate all heritages that are a part of Astoria’s history.

Portland Lee’s Dragon and Lion Dance team performed two dances at the event. The Astoria Fire Department displayed a huge American flag in the street. Parks Director Angela Cosby was applauded for her work with the project. Chinese firecrackers concluded the event, as the garden was officially opened to the public.

“The Column is really about history and legacy,” said Jordan Schnitzer, president of the Friends of the Astoria Column, who compared the iconic monument to the now-completed Garden. “If you think about two words that are most appropriate about this fabulous addition to the community, that’s what this is all about.”

    

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