A little known piece of Astoria's history was recognized Saturday with the dedication of a monument at the Maritime Memorial Park. The metal sign unveiled by Mayor Willis Van Dusen marks an event in American history that helped shape the struggle for freedom in India from British colonial rule.
One hundred years ago a number of south asian indians were living and working in communities along the Columbia River. Many of them were from the state of Punjab, a part of India that is significant for several reasons. First, many members of the British Indian Army were from Punjab and it is in that area of India where the Sikh religion saw it's birth. The men from Punjab who lived in Astoria were impressed with the American war against british rule, as were the hundreds of other indians working at mills along the Columbia. Up until just last summer it was thought that the revoultionary political party formed by these people was rooted in San Francisco but recent research has proven that the first meetings to form what became known as the Ghadar (mutiny) Party actually occured in the old Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria and grew, spreading through other river towns in Oregon. Ghadar spread to other pockets of indians living in California and Washington. Many of those men returned to India and the history of that first meeting was lost. In fact, the story of the Ghadar Political Movement is not well known in India today. Historian Joanna Ogden wrote the article that appeared in the publication of the Oregon Historical Society last summer based on her research that indicated the first meetings to form the basis for the political movement began in Astoria.
The weekend of events in Astoria included a panel at the Liberty Theater with guest speakers who gave some of the history of the Ghadar Party, a series of films offered at the Hampton Inn, which served as the headquarters hotel for the weekend that attracted bus loads of people from all over the Northwest who came to mark the occassion and share their stories.
One of them was a man who spoke of his father who was a original member of the Ghadar party. Following the reading of the Mayor's proclaimation in English and in Hindu, the crowd parted to let an older gentleman (pictured left) come forward. He took a seat on the ground and motioned to Mayor Van Dusen to join him. He then began to speak of his father and the actions he took. As he spoke the crowd gathered around him and one member of the audience explained briefly who he was. It was an unexpected, but welcome moment in the dedication. Mayor Van Dusen then asked that he join in the offical unveiling of the monument marking the event.
Mayor Van Dusen made it a point to say that while this may be a story that is part of India's independance, it is an American story and he welcomed home everyone who attended. The Mayor has said the same of the Garden Of Surging Waves, pointing out that the garden recognizes the Chinese story in Astoria as part of American history with ties to China.
Those who participated in the various events repeatedly thanked the City of Astoria and it's leadership for recognizing the importance of the Ghadar movement and it's roots here.