The Belleville Historical Society invites residents to join the Society, Pastor Miguel Ortiz and the New Jersey Chinese-American Association at the dedication of the memorial monument to Belleville’s 19th century Chinese community, the first Chinese community in the eastern United States. The ceremony will take place Saturday, October 22 at 11 am in the cemetery of the old Belleville Dutch Reformed Church on Main Street, now La Senda Antigua.
With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 connecting the east and west coast for the first time, Belleville became home to the first Chinatown in the eastern US when sixty-eight Chinese immigrants arrived from California on September 20, 1870. “Most people wrongly assume that the first Chinese community was in New York City”, said Michael Perrone, president of the Belleville Historical Society. “But it was Belleville”. The first Chinese funeral was here in November 1870, the first Chinese New Year celebrated here in January 1871, the first school for the Chinese opened here in September 1871 and the first Chinese place of worship was located here,” Perrone said. Belleville welcomed the Chinese immigrants while most of the rest of the country was strongly anti-Chinese. Many of the Chinese became members of the Belleville Reformed Church and those who died while here were buried in catacombs underneath the church.
For nearly 20 years Chinese immigrants traveled from throughout the region to Belleville to celebrate their holidays and worship. As late as 1887 the Chinese residents of New York City complained that they were not allowed to celebrate their holidays and had to travel to Belleville for their festivities. “The Belleville Chinese residents eventually settled three miles south in Newark where they established the Newark Chinatown which thrived from 1890 until the 1960’s.