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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid