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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Peace Arch unveiling symbolizes a new future

During the ceremony, audience members were encouraged to stand and hold hands while local poet, Linda Allen, sang a song she wrote on the history of Bellingham’s violence towards immigrant groups. // Photo by Colton Redtfedlt

By Colton Redtfedlt

Members from the Bellingham community gathered in front of Bellingham City Hall on Saturday, April 21, to celebrate the installation of the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation.

The event aimed to address Bellingham’s history of immigration and move towards a future of acceptance.

The purpose of the arch is to honor the immigrants who came to the Pacific Northwest from China, India and Japan since the 1800s, according to the project’s website. The arch is also dedicated to acknowledging Bellingham’s history of violence against immigrant groups.

The idea for the arch was conceived in 2007 by members of the local Sikh community after the city of Bellingham issued a proclamation apologizing for its role in the 1907 Bellingham Riots. During the riots, community members violently removed Indian immigrants from the city.

Satpal Sidhu, a Whatcom County council member and member of the Sikh community, was one of the organizers behind the creation of the arch. He was the main speaker at the event.

Members of the Bellingham Silk Road Dance Academy performed a ribbon dance during the ceremony. // Photo by Colton Redtfeldt

“A community is only complete when it recognizes its shortcomings and achievements,” Sidhu said.

Chinese, Indian and Native American dancers performed at the ceremony. Punjabi and Native American songs were sung throughout the afternoon.

Community leaders were invited on stage to talk about the arch and the importance of remembering Bellingham’s history.

Western’s President Sabah Randhawa was the keynote speaker. He said virtually everybody is an immigrant in the backdrop of history.

“While much has changed in the last 50 years, we cannot help but recognize how much still needs to change in the struggle for justice and equity,” Randhawa said.

He also touched on what the arch means for the community.

“The Arch of Healing and Reconciliation we are dedicating today recognizes the aspirations, the struggle and the resilience of immigrants to this area past and present,” Randhawa said. “But perhaps, more importantly, it is a symbol of an inclusive and equitable future that we can and must build together.”

At the end of the ceremony, the arch was unveiled by children from the community. They were also the first to walk through the arch. Sidhu said this was because the children are the future.

Local children were the first to walk through the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation. // Photo by Colton Redtfeldt

The arch is made of Indian Red Granite, according to the project’s website. Four plaques are affixed to the arch. Each plaque documents the history of immigrant groups to Bellingham and the violence those groups faced. On the bricks under the arch, the word “welcome” is engraved in 15 languages, Satpal said.

During his speech, Sidhu said an arch was chosen because of its resemblance to a door. Doors have strong symbolism in Indian culture and are commonly constructed by communities when someone has done something important.

In 2016, a committee of local community members drafted a plan for the arch. During this time, the group expanded the arch to remember the violence experienced by other immigrant groups from Asia.

Funding and support for the arch came from many local organizations, including the Whatcom Community Foundation, the Whatcom Human Rights Council and the Lynden Sikh Temple.

In the future, the committee plans to create a scholarship fund for local immigrant students and host an annual ethnic food festival, according to the project’s website.

“What we do now is talk about the future together,” Sidhu said. “We can talk about what we can learn from the past and resist any of the kind of rhetoric that is going around today. Whatever is going on, we cannot demonize people because people are people.”

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