After almost a century and a half, the Chinese railroad workers who labored for six years to construct the Transcontinental Railroad are finally being recognized for their huge contribution.
May 10 has been officially proclaimed California Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Day in commemoration of the 12,000 Chinese railroad workers who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad (formerly Pacific Railroad), 148 years after its completion.Completed on May 10, 1869, the railroad is considered one of the most remarkable engineering achievements of the 19th century. With its completion, the West and the East were finally linked for the first time in American history.
The Chinese workers were credited in constructing the toughest stretch of the railroad, which is the Western section.
Impressively, the Chinese railroad workers were even able to set a world record by completing 10 miles of railroad track in just one workday.
The project literally cost the laborers’ blood, sweat, and tears as almost 1,200 Chinese lives died while working on it.
“The thousands of Chinese immigrants who risked their lives to build the Transcontinental Railroad faced prejudice, unsafe working conditions, and low wages,” Low was quoted as saying. “Their sacrifice and courage must never be forgotten.”
“Through their fight against discrimination, the Chinese railroad workers set an example for the millions of Asian Americans who came to the United States after them.”
“Both the descendants of the workers and the wider Asian American community view the sacrifices of the Chinese railroad workers as being integral to the creation of the vibrant and growing Asian American community that exists throughout the country today.”
Chinese laborers, mostly from Guangdong Province in South China, were recruited by contractors. As a means to escape poverty, thousands of Chinese traveled to California and accepted the opportunity.
However, not only did the foreign workers face dangerous working conditions, they also endured widespread discrimination during and after the project. In fact, for more than a hundred years, their role was largely ignored, despite making up 80% of the entire work force of the Central Pacific Railroad Co.
“Because much mainstream historical writing omits their (early Chinese immigrants’) history, it is imperative that we, descendants of the early Chinese, do not,” Stanford American History professor Gordon Chang said.
In the last five years, Chang has lead a Stanford project aiming to preserve the history of the Chinese railroad workers.
“The Chinese railroad workers’ contribution will be remembered by more and more people both in the US and in China,” said Chang.