The Foundation Ceremony for the Monument to the Phoenix Chinese Ancestors

Phoenix's Pioneer & Military Memorial Park is one of the earliest cemeteries in Phoenix with significant historic values.  The cemetery is the burial ground for many famous people and preserves much important information about the early settlers of Arizona.  On the 11-acre cemetery divided into seven zones, there are 3,700 tombs and about 600 tombstones. The early Chinese settlers were buried among the poor in the cemetery.  From 1886 to 1914, there were 50 Chinese and Chinese descendants buried in the cemetery and many of these Chinese’ remains were later transferred back to China by their loved ones.  Since these Chinese did not appear on the obituary sections of the local newspapers, there is very limited information in identifying these Chinese nor their families and descendants.

In 1993, ASU anthropologists K.J Schroeder and his archaeological excavation team excavated the cemetery and unearthed some Chinese coins, bone made tools, jade, small Bodhisattvas and other objects. The archaeologist published the book, "Pioneer & Military Memorial Park Archaeological Project in Phoenix Arizona 1990-1992." Among the early tombstones in the cemetery, there is only one with Chinese inscription - "Grave of Xiang Yuan Tang, Kaiping Dai Lou Village.”  With little clues about this tomb, the archaeologist reached out to the Tempe Chinese school principal, William Tang.  Mr. Tang published a message in the local Chinese newspaper, hoping to find the descendants of the tomb in order to study the life, thoughts and family of the tomb owner and to promulgate the glorious history of the Chinese pioneers.  But 20 years passed by, the tombstone mystery had remained unsolved.

Homer Zhang, President of Phoenix Chinese Welfare Council, has spent years in collecting relevant information in hopes to unravel the mystery tombstone, through querying Chinese family names, researching genealogy records, visiting former overseas Chinese, and inquiring cemeteries in U.S. and China. Mr. Zhang published over 10 articles online and through local Chinese newspapers on the mystery tombstone.  Mr. Zhang’s articles received vast feedbacks from the Chinese communities -- many senior overseas Chinese provided clues and the cemetery offered help.   After years of effort, the mystery had finally been solved.  According to Mr. Zhang’s research, Xiang Yuan Tang is found in the genealogy records of the family of Thomas Tang (1922-1995), Justice of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court.  Xiang Yuan Tang is one of earliest Chinese settler in Arizona and his tombstone is the earliest tombstone inscribed with Chinese characters.  His tombstone provides great reference value for the future research of Chinese history in Arizona. 

May 26, 2014, Chinese community leaders and members of the Chinese community organizations visited the Chinese cemetery of the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park in commemorating the Chinese ancestors and pioneers with wreath flowers. They were senior Chinese community leader John M. Yee, and representatives from Chinese United Association of Greater Phoenix, Phoenix Chinese Welfare Council, Ong Ko Met Family Association, Yee Fung Toy Family Association, Kaiping Benevolent Association of Phoenix, Chinese Restaurant Association of Arizona, Ying On Merchants & Benevolent Association, Taiwan Benevolent Association of Phoenix, Lung Kong Family Association of Phoenix Arizona, Phoenix academia, Arizona Sunbird News.

There is a deep feeling about the fifty Chinese pioneers who buried in the early Chinese cemetery.  Either in life or after death, these Chinese are classified with low status, subjected to discrimination in the era of anti-Chinese.  Their lives were filled with a lot of sad stories.  Xiang Yuan Tang’s thin little tombstone is a humble portrayal of the Chinese status during the era.  As Tang was buried ages ago, it seems it is so difficult for his soul to return to hometown and join his loved ones. His tombstone stands in the neglected cemetery in self-pity, as if it is waiting ... in solitude years.  Today, the page of Chinese pioneers is finally turned.  Chinese tombstones provide us with precious historical and cultural heritage values.  From now on, "the First Chinese Cemetery Monument" and the name of Xiang Yuan Tang will no longer be forgotten. 

Followings are two pictures Homer Zhang took in contrast: one by the Xiang Yuan Tan’s tombstone at the old cemetery, and the other by the Chinese Cemetery Memorial monument at the Greenwood Memory Lawn Mortuary & Cemetery.

The current Chinese cemetery is located at Greenwood Memory Lawn Mortuary & Cemetery.  Greenwood Memory Lawn Mortuary & Cemetery is founded in 1906 and it is the largest cemetery in Arizona. In 1992, Chinese community leader, John M. Yee, realized the Chinese cemeteries were not centralized in term of location.  Therefore, he worked with Phoenix Chinese Welfare Council and the Greenwood Cemetery management to negotiate the opening up of the Phoenix’s first "Chinese Cemetery Park" (Chinese Memorial Garden).  The Greenwood Cemetery management not only established a monument to commemorate the Chinese cemetery, but also developed a sector as "royal cemetery," namely luxury grave sites, reflecting the management’s high level of respect for the Chinese.  This level of respect would never occur in the past.  As result of the high respect in the Chinese culture and customs, there is a great demand for the Chinese to choose the Greenwood Cemetery as their burial site. Today as the Chinese social status has been significantly improved and have integrated with the mainstream, they are no longer depressed with injustice of the past, but more actively to face it and involved to improve the system. They also take the courage to participate in the future development and innovation.  

 Currently, the old Chinese cemetery still has about twenty Chinese ancestors buried there. The Phoenix Chinese Welfare Council decided to establish a monument in memory of these Chinese pioneers in Arizona for their great contribution to the Chinese community. This decision has been strongly supported by the Phoenix city government, executives of the cemetery and Chinese United Association of Greater Phoenix. The monument has now been built and a date for installation and commemoration ceremony is yet to be decided by general manager of the Greenwood Cemetery, David Walker, and Phoenix Parks & Recreation manager, Mark Lam, Phoenix Depatmemt Park Foreman Dustin Marut, Chinese United Association of Greater Phoenix President David Yee, Homer Zhang,  Cheak Yee,  Jim Tang and Jim Ong. 

鳳凰城市政府紀念墓園鳳凰城僑聯總會, 華人福利會派员考察華人先 民紀念墓碑奠基地点