A museum dedicated to remembering Chinese laborers who helped build the United States’ first transcontinental railroad opened in San Francisco this week.
The Chinese Railroad Workers History Center, located on Kearny Street, is founded by Florence Fang, a Chinese community leader in the Bay Area. She said the center will serve as a “multifunctional gathering place” to learn about Chinese American heritage.
“The center’s purpose is to remember the Chinese railroad workers’ contribution to this country; the goal is to give voice to the voiceless, and the spirit is to remember the past and inspire the future,” said Fang, according to China Daily.
Wednesday’s opening coincided with the 154th anniversary of the Golden Spike, which marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad. It also came in time for AAPI Heritage Month.
The railroad, originally called the Pacific Railroad, was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. Around 12,000 Chinese laborers joined its construction, but their contributions have largely been forgotten in history.
Those laborers faced dangerous working conditions, with nearly 1,200 of them dying from accidents that included avalanches and explosions. To make matters worse, they also battled prejudice, discrimination and accusations of “stealing” American jobs.
Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman, who hosted Wednesday’s event, said the museum serves as a step to rectify the overlooking of the laborers in history.
“These workers faced immense challenges and incredible levels of discrimination. They received 30 to 50 percent lower wages than white workers for the same job,” Wunderman said, as per KGO. “They were given the most difficult and dangerous work including tunneling and the ease of explosives.”
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