Mount Hope Cemetery: Restoring history

If you visit the Chinese Immigrant Memorial at Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan, Mass, you will notice that a lot of the headstones are in poor condition.  This is due to aging, but it is also because of vandalism and lack of care for many years.  Many of these headstones belong to the Chinese immigrants that created the Chinatown that we are able to enjoy today.

The first Chinese settlers of Boston Chinatown came from San Francisco, Ca, to North Adams, MA around the 1870s. These settlers consisted of about 75 workers who started working at the Sampson Shoe Factory in North Adams and later traveled to Boston.  Chinese laundries and Chinese restaurants were soon established along Harrison Avenue.  Overtime, Chinatown slowly began to evolve to include many other infamous streets such as Kneeland Street and Hudson Street.

Like many immigrants, the Chinese Settlers came to the United States for a better life for themselves and their family.  Unfortunately, many of the early settlers were bachelors who did not have families in the United States nor were they able to have a family before they deceased.  Many of these settlers that passed away were buried in Mount Hope.
Without family members, these headstones remained in Mount Hope Cemetery for decades without proper care.  As any item with age, the heads stone deteriorated and some were even vandalized.  Perhaps, it was fate for us to keep our history when the cemetery experienced financial burden which led the city to contact the Chinatown community. This attention was brought to two active members of the Chinatown community, Davis Woo and David S.Y. Wong, in 1989.  And in 1992, when The Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE) was established, they began the project to restore history.  CHSNE and along with many efforts of volunteers had started a project in hopes to restore these burial grounds, build a memorial alter, and find a way to restore the damaged tombstones.   With ambition and hard work, CHSNE and volunteers alike were able to raise an amazing amount of money.

On March 2007, the Chinese Immigrant Memorial was complete.

Although the Chinese Immigrant Memorial is complete, many efforts are still involved in this project.  Every year, a group of students from UMASS Boston (UMB), led by Peter Kiang, Director of the Asian American Studies Program at UMB and co-president of CHSNE, try to maintain and clean the Chinese Immigrant Memorial.  In addition, since the tombstones are privately owned by the descendants of the Chinese setters, it is considered private property.  Currently, efforts are being made to contact these descendants.  However, if efforts has been made but failed, these tombstones could be replaced.

For more information or if you would like to volunteer, please contact CHSNE: (617)338-4339 or info@chsne.org.

Chinese Immigrant Memorial. (Photo by Diana Li)

One of the many headstones that deteriorated at Mount Hope Cemetery. (Photo by Diana Li)

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