News / USA

Project Remembers Chinese Railroad Workers in US Through Descendants

Project Remembers Chinese Railroad Workers in US Through Descendantsi
X
May 14, 2014 4:06 AM
Almost 150 years ago, large numbers of Chinese started working on the U.S. transcontinental railroad, which allowed the United States to become a modern nation. Very little is known, however, about these workers and what happened to them. Stanford University is working on a project to piece together the lives of the Chinese railroad workers by reaching out to their descendants. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Elizabeth Lee
— Next year marks the 150th anniversary of when large numbers of Chinese started working on the transcontinental railroad in the United States. Very little is known about these workers lives and what happened to them after the construction ended. Stanford University is working on a project to piece together the lives of the Chinese railroad workers by reaching out to their descendants.

Desperation and courage could very well describe what led Bill Yee’s ancestors to come to the United States.
 
“I don’t think I could do it to come to a strange country and don’t know a word of English. But I guess it’s between eating or starving. I guess you have to do what you have to do for your family,” said Yee.
 
His ancestors came from southern China, and became a part of key moments in American history.
 
“My great-great-grandfather came over during the gold rush days and he returned back to China as a wealthy man. My great-grandfather came over to work on the railroad. He came over to work with black gunpowder, black powder on the railroad and he died working on the railroad,” said Yee.
 
But that didn’t stop his grandfather from coming to the U.S. on false papers.  He ran a laundry and Yee’s father continued that business.
 
“Things were pretty bad in some parts of China at that time. They came to America at all costs,” Yee said.
 
Shelley Fisher Fishkin wants to hear stories like Yee's. 
 
“The records of specific individuals and their names and experiences are so sparse,” said Fishkin.
 
Fishkin is co-director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University. She is working with scholars in Asia to look for descendants of railroad workers on both continents to reconstruct the lives of these men.
 
“Many of the Chinese workers who came to work on the Transcontinental and other railroads returned to China after their work was done [and] created families there.  Some of them had families who they left when they came here and they may have descendants in China,” said Fishkin.
 
The aim is to create a digital archive of artifacts, documents and oral histories from the railroad worker’s descendants so historians can piece together the mystery of who they were and what happened to them.
 
”The U.S. could not have become the modern industrial nation it did without the railroads and the railroads would not have come together when they did without the crucial work of these Chinese workers,” said Fishkin.
 
Jonathan Wong’s ancestor knew English and left China to work as a translator on the transcontinental railroad. He eventually brought his family to the U.S., and they settled in San Francisco.
 
“He had a [different] experience than having to do labor. He wouldn’t go home feeling that he was going to be in danger the next day. It was a closer relationship with the white community, his white superiors, but obviously I know that he was still treated as if he was the inferior minority,” said Wong.
 
Fishkin said racial issues were a part of life as a Chinese railroad worker.
 
“They suffered greatly from discrimination and from prejudice. They were paid less than their Euro-American workers,” said Fishkin.
 
Bill Yee wants his six children and 19 grandchildren to know their family history.
 
“They have to appreciate the sacrifice that our grandparents did for us otherwise I might be working in the rice fields now. So it really brings a big opportunity to this generation,” said Yee. 
 
Through the Stanford University project, the lives of these men can be remembered, so the role they played in American history will be remembered by their descendants.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid