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The Evergreen Cemetery: Respect for the Dead

Founded on August 23, 1877, the Evergreen Cemetery is one the oldest existing cemeteries in the city of Los Angeles and the first to engage in profiting from burials. Pioneering families such as the Hollenbecks, the Lankershims and the Van Nuys' buried their own at the Evergreen - far away from their ranch homes in the San Fernando Valley - and tried to recreate the ostentatious mausoleums and head stones of their East Coast counterparts. Unknown to them, however, was the fact that as part of the deal to build the cemetery, the owners agreed to donate a nine-acre piece of land to be used as a "Potter's Field." Next to the rich and famous were buried nameless beggars, prostitutes and indigents in this small plot of land. A few years later, the Chinese community adopted a section of this acreage to build a shrine, now considered the oldest Chinese American monument in the city of Los Angeles. The Shrine was used by Chinese American pioneers at funeral ceremonies such as the Ching-Ming to burn the personal possessions of their deceased with gold and paper money, thereby encouraging their safe and auspicious passage to the afterlife. Ten years after its inception, the Evergreen Cemetery began to mirror the city upon which it stood, a home full of contradictions, where the wealthiest of the city lay to rest next to petty criminals and hard-working immigrants. When the construction of the Metro Gold Line in East L.A. began in 2005, the remains and possessions of many Chinese sojourners were unknowingly desecrated, creating an uproar within the Chinese American community. The following interview with community activist Gilbert Hom sheds light on the sentiments shared by the Chinese community and the way in which city officials made reparations by erecting a wall that celebrates the unmarked graves of those buried in this Potter's Field.

The Ching-Ming Ceremony
A glimpse at the 2010 Ching-Ming Ceremony in the Evergreen Cemetery.

About the Ching-Ming Ceremony
Gilbert Hom explains the importance of the Chin-Ming ceremony for Chinese immigrants.

The Evergreen Shrine
Why the Evergreen Shrine was built and its perseverance through the cemetery's history.

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