Bellingham and Whatcom County, Washington are a connected unit of small communities on a the northwestern edge of America, home to native peoples and immigrants of diverse backgrounds. Since 1921, the International Peace Arch monument between the US and Canada has been located here, in Blaine, WA, to honor the peace and shared ancestry between the two nations. In April 2018, a permanent Arch of Healing and Reconciliation monument will be located in Bellingham to honor the brave immigrants to the Pacific Northwest from China, India, and Japan, and recognize all immigrants who have come to America since the 1800’s seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families through hard work and determination.
In issuing a proclamation of support, Mayor Kelli Linville stated that the Arch, “symbolizes our renewed commitment to American democratic values and… will celebrate the rich diversity that provides energy and creativity for generations to come.”
The arch, 12 feet high and made of 10 tons of solid red granite from India, is the first part of a multifaceted project to honor and remember the contributions, sacrifices, and bravery of the community’s immigrants. The work is led by a group of Whatcom County residents, including the Lynden Sikh Temple, an initial funder of the project, which has pledged $50,000 in matching funds for the project. The Whatcom Community Foundation (WCF), the fiscal sponsor for the program, also pledged $25,000 in matching funds. As WCF is a non-profit organization, all donations are tax-deductible.
The arch also recognizes the welcome and hospitality of local tribal members of Lummi and Nooksack tribes, to the immigrant families coming to this region before and after the Point Elliot Treaty. The base of the arch will have 18-inch-square black granite tiles with “welcome” in multiple languages, with special recognition being made to the local Lummi and Nooksack tribes. Paul Englesberg, a local historian and member of Arch committee, noted, “The historical legacy in Bellingham and Whatcom County of intolerance and hostility towards native peoples, African Americans, and immigrants is now being recognized and transformed with community initiatives that demonstrate respect, cooperation, and solidarity.”
While the arch is under construction, the Arch Committee continues to raise funds for two more elements of this initiative celebrating the community’s immigrants: a scholarship fund to help children of first-generation immigrants go to college, and an annual ethnic food festival in Bellingham on Labor Day. The committee plans to raise about $2 million, with the bulk of the funds going toward the scholarship fund, which will provide significant educational opportunities in higher education for new immigrant families and their children.
Bellingham has a long, proud history of immigrants traveling through on their way up and down the West Coast. Many have settled here and have made significant contributions to the community, but the community hasn’t always been a welcoming place for immigrants. Chinese, Indian and Japanese immigrants, in particular, were targeted and forcibly removed from the community. The arch, which will be located on the corner of Lottie and North Commercial streets on the lawn behind the Bellingham Public Library, will include bronze plaques with dates and short descriptions of three episodes in Whatcom County in which immigrants were targeted for removal: Chinese Americans in 1885, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus from India in 1907, and Japanese Americans in 1942.
“We believe the best way to honor our ancestors is to educate our future generations. While the granite memorial will be a symbolic reminder about our history, we consider this a learning moment for us all Americans to be vigilant so that such events never happen in the future,” said Satpal Sidhu, a Whatcom County Councilmember and Chair of the Arch of Healing organization.
The goal of all facets of the project is to create teaching and learning opportunities for future generations in the hope of avoiding additional anti-immigrant sentiment and violence. “Never have we been so keenly aware of how bigotry can unravel the fabric of our society. The arch symbolizes respect for others, fairness, and opportunity for all – internationally recognized values of hope. It’s time to pitch in and make this project a reality,” said Tim Douglas, former Bellingham Mayor and vice chair of Arch Committee.
Plans for the arch began in 2007 when members of the Lynden Sikh Temple began thinking of ways to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1907 forced removal of Sikh timber mill workers from Bellingham. Over time, plans expanded to include commemorating the expulsions of Chinese and Japanese Americans as well. Further plans developed to establish a lasting monument to honor the community’s history of immigrants with a higher education scholarship and an annual food festival.
Terry Bornemann, long-time Bellingham City Council member and member of Arch Committee reflected, “During our current troubled times the soon to be erected Arch of Healing and Reconciliation will serve as both a reminder of our past deplorable events aimed toward the Sikh, Chinese, and Japanese immigrant populations and as a welcoming beacon for future immigrants coming to our city.”