SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Descendants of Chinese railroad workers are gathering in Utah this week, to commemorate and remember those who laid the tracks for the transcontinental railroad and led to the completion at Promontory Point.
Their contributions and work has been ignored or forgotten throughout history, but recently more efforts have been made to connect with the past and bring forward their stories.
Historians estimate that as many as 15,000 Chinese worked on constructing the railroad during construction.
This year is the 149th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.
The Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association is holding a 3-day conference downtown, with presentations, workshops, and activities including a trip to Golden Spike and the Chinese Arch nearby.
One of the men here is Leland Wong, from San Francisco. His great-grandfather worked on the railroad, moving from the west coast to meet workers coming from the east coast and meeting at the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point.
“I only found out in college when my parents told me,” he said about his great-grandfather’s story. “They never made a big thing of it.”
“There has not been a lot of acknowledgement in the history books. In social studies classes, I never heard of the Chinese working the railroad” he said.
He wants to remember their legacy.
“A lot of people want to sweep it under the rug. Even at the annual Golden Spike events, there’s hardly any mention of them. In the past years, I have been the lone Chinese person standing in the crowd among people wearing time-period costumes,” said Wong.
The historic celebratory photo from that day the Central Pacific and Union Pacific came together in 1869 doesn’t include any Chinese workers. In 2014, another photograph was taken, with descendants of those workers. And in 2012, A Chinese delegation visited Salt Lake City to receive a sculpture depicting a Chinese railroad worker with his wife and child.
On the 100-year anniversary of the completion of the railroad, a plaque was erected at the Golden Spike Historical Monument honoring Chinese workers. It reads: “To commemorate the centennial of the first transcontinental railroad in America and to pay tribute to the Chinese workers whose indomitable courage made it possible.”
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