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Denver group hopes to change anti-Chinese riot historic plaque, revitalize Chinatown

"It really shows how history is written from a perspective that is very long established and doesn’t include people of color," a group member said.

DENVER — The Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU) group hopes to have a historic plaque removed from lower downtown as they begin their efforts to revitalize and recognize what was once Denver's Chinatown

In the late 1800s, Denver's lower downtown area was the bustling Chinatown – according to historian Dr. William Wei, the area was home to 500 Chinese people at its peak.

In 1880, the neighborhood was burned to the ground during the anti-Chinese riot – the city's first race riot in its history. 

"This plaque here is what brought our attention to this history," Gil Asakawa, a member of the CAPU group, said as he stared at the historic marker at 20th Avenue and Blake Street.

The plaque is titled, "Hop Alley/Chinese Riot of 1880," a title CAPU believes sheds a negative light on the area. 

"The headline talks about the Chinese race riot and it wasn’t Chinese, it was anti-Chinese," Asakawa said. The group also took issue with the words 'hop alley,' a derogatory term referring to the opium dens in the neighborhood. 

"I’m not saying the people who wrote this are racist in any way," he explained. "But, it really shows how history is written from a perspective that is very long established and doesn’t include people of color."

"We want to flip that around and talk about it being a Chinatown and talk about the history of the community and how it got established and how important it was at the time." 

CAPU is looking to get the current plaque about the anti-Chinse riot removed and replaced with another that words the incident and the neighborhood's history differently. They hope to have this done before the MLB All-Star week begins in July.

"There’s going to be a lot of people walking by driving by here and we want to be able to set the tone of, 'this is what we’re working on,"' Asakawa said. "It’s a work in progress we want to have a more accurate plaque and we want art that commemorates it."

CAPU is working with Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca to try and get ahold of the owners of the building to see if they can get the current plaque about the anti-Chinese riot removed.

Asakawa told 9NEWS that is just one of the many goals the group has – including their long-term vision to have the area become an Asian influenced international district. 

"I’m not advocating to push out any of these businesses and I love this district, I love what it's become," Asakawa said. "We can’t take communities of color for granted, we have to make space for them, we have to celebrate them and we should not erase them."

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