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Nevadan values Chinese roots

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LOVELOCK, Nev. — Chinese immigrants helped build Nevada's railroads in the last half of the 1800s, but were little appreciated during their lives, and that disdain often followed them to the grave.

At the time, they were considered second-class citizens, even in death. Their graveyards were outside the boundaries of the cities' official cemeteries.

The resting places often were ignored, particularly after most of the immigrants and their descendants had departed by the 1930s.

Lovelock was no exception, but Larry De Leeuw is working to change that.

De Leeuw is spearheading an effort to preserve the city's Chinese cemetery and locate descendants of those buried there.

The city has scheduled a Chinese Memorial Day event at the cemetery. Known as Ching Ming or Qingming — which translates to clear and bright — it is a day for Chinese families to visit ancestors' graves.

It is not a solemn occasion, but rather, a time for happy communion with the family members to show respect to their ancestors. The Lovelock affair will include some fireworks and have burial packets that can be burned in honor of the dead.

"This is the third year we've done it," said De Leeuw, a Lovelock business owner and history buff who also has established a small Chinese museum at his business, the Cadillic Inn.

"Last year, we had about 20 people, including the mayor and sheriff and some other local dignitaries," he said. "We didn't have any Chinese there."

Lovelock's Chinatown was established in the 1880s, said Gene Hattori, director of Anthropology at the Nevada State Museum. The remnants of Lovelock's Chinatown remained until the 1970s, when they were razed to make way for Interstate 80 through town.

When De Leeuw moved to Lovelock several years ago, the Chinese cemetery was in disrepair and covered with sagebrush. He is working with the city's cemetery board for construction of a fence around the cemetery and other improvements.

His biggest challenge, he said, is trying to find exactly who is buried there.

"None of the graves are marked," he said. "We have no plot plan."

What De Leeuw does have are death certificates from Pershing and Humboldt counties that tell him the names and dates of death of Chinese residents. He is hoping the Chinese Memorial Day event will help turn up some descendants of the Chinese that lived in the area.