Asian American community leaders ask Jamie Giellis to explain “Chinatown” statements

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Asian American community leaders ask Jamie Giellis to explain “Chinatown” statements
Asian American community leaders ask Jamie Giellis to explain “Chinatown” statements

More than 30 leaders and members of Asian American communities issued an open letter to Denver mayoral candidate Jamie Giellis on Tuesday, asking that she clarify her statements about Chinatowns.

Giellis had tweeted in 2009, asking why “so many cities feel it necessary to have a ‘Chinatown.’” Asked about the statement by 9News last week, her campaign said that the statement was a personal observation made as she noticed “that those neighborhoods were changing, that ‘Chinatowns’ became less of the cultural centers that they once were.”

Tuesday’s letter expressed “grave concerns” about the two statements. Its signatories included leaders of the following organizations, among others:

  • Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado
  • Asian Pacific Development Center
  • Mile High Japanese American Citizens League
  • Chinese American Council of Colorado
  • Asian Pacific American Advocates, Colorado Chapter
  • Japanese American Association of Colorado
  • Vietnamese American Community of Colorado
  • Sakura Square
  • Asahi Foods

The letter also was signed by several appointees of Mayor Michael Hancock, including Eric Hiraga, the city’s economic development director; Will Chan, deputy director of the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative; and Derek Okubo, director of the city’s Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships. They did not sign the letter in their official capacities.

The letter said that Giellis’ tweet was “particularly disturbing in light of the tragic event that happened 149 years ago in the core of our downtown and the racial divisiveness unfolding in our country today,” the first reference to a race riot in which a largely white mob practically destroyed Denver’s former Chinatown on Wazee Street and killed one man.

The letter continued that Giellis’ statement last week about the change in Chinatowns’ cultural role “further demonstrates your lack of understanding of the significance that these historic connections have in our communities as we mitigate the negative consequences of gentrification and displacement. It is not a true representation of our communities’ passion to grow and foster our cultural centers.”

The letter requested a response “so we can better understand your values for inclusivity and diversity.”

In a written response on Tuesday night, Giellis said: “The people of Denver should know the context of my tweet from 10 years ago. It seems poorly worded but it came after research and conversations where I was concerned with gentrification and displacement in Chinatown communities around the country. An example is in Chinatown in Washington DC where many Chinese-American residents were pushed out by out of control development and gentrification.”

Hancock’s campaign included the Chinatown tweet in an ad about Giellisthis week. Meanwhile, Giellis said Tuesday that she would end “the culture of sexual harassment in city hall that is out of control under Michael Hancock,” referring in part to the text messages the incumbent sent to an employee in 2012.

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