News / USA

Chinese Railway Workers Inducted in US Labor Department's Hall of Honor

This year marks the 145th anniversary of the completion of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese labor played a large role.
This year marks the 145th anniversary of the completion of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese labor played a large role.
This year marks the 145th anniversary of the completion of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. The 3,200 kilometers of rail, constructed between 1863 and 1869, finally linked the eastern United States to the western part of the country.
 
Last week, the Chinese immigrants who worked on that railroad were honored by being registered in the U.S. Department of Labor's Hall of Honor in Washington, D.C. The more than 12,000 Chinese laborers are the first Asian-Americans to be inducted into the Hall since its creation in 1988.
 
At the ceremony Friday, Labor Department Deputy Secretary Chris Lu said by sharing the story of the Chinese immigrants who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, people are reminded that the U.S. has benefited from wave after wave of industrious immigrants.
 
Lu said in immigrant families there’s a special place of honor for those who do things first.
 
“So for the community of 18 million Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country, the Chinese railroad workers are part of our first,” said Lu. “They pushed open a door so that generations could follow them. The story of their successes has been missing in history for far too long and that is why we honor them today."
 
Chinese-American historian Connie Young Yu, who spoke at the Department of Labor Hall of Honor induction ceremony, told the story of her great-grandfather, Lee Wong Sang, who worked on the railroad. At a separate event over the weekend at the Chinese Community Church in Washington, Yu said she was honored to represent all of the railroad workers' descendants at the ceremony.
 
"You know it's a great celebration and we're supposed to be so excited about having the word ‘Chinese’ on the Hall of Honor,” said Yu. “But it's also a sober reminder of what happened in our history."
 
Sue Lee, executive director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, said the induction was the long overdue recognition the Chinese laborers on the Transcontinental Railroad deserved. She said it's emotionally important for the Chinese-American community to receive that recognition and a reminder of their pioneering history.
 
"The importance and the significance of those early Chinese in the face of racism and barriers and continuing discrimination throughout the time, even after the railroad work finished, they couldn't find [a] job, it was hard to settle down in communities. Chinese women weren't allowed in this country, they couldn't start families," said Lee. "So despite all that, the Chinese community survived and when immigration laws changed in 1968, this new population, our newcomers are learning about the legacy of the work of these pioneering railroad workers."
 
Lee said even though the Transcontinental Railroad was built 145 years ago, there are many lessons even young Chinese-Americans can take away from the stories of the railroad workers. She said the opportunities that young people have today are all thanks to the legacy of those early pioneers.
 
"And we hope, as the Chinese Historical Society, that young people are inspired hearing about the ceremony and that they delve into their own history because you never know, there are people even today that are discovering for the first time that their families had some connection to those early railroad workers," said Lee. "So we have our own history to piece together and to rediscover."
 
Russell Gong, 24, said what he has learned from the celebrations is the idea of being able to build from the passion of the railway workers.
 
"I think what's more exciting is the people around those individuals, that family unit, and ultimately their ancestors, are still talking about that passion and energy building," said Gong. "I think that's the exciting thing... when we, as people, create... What that really means beyond the structures that we build."
 
The Chinese immigrant railroad workers join a distinguished list of contributors to the field of labor in the Labor Hall of Honor. Other inductees include industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and the rescue workers who responded to the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs