Chinese railroad workers inducted into Hall of Honour

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(APTN)

The estimated 12,000 Chinese immigrant labourers who worked on the building of the first transcontinental railway in the United States were finally recognised for their work on Friday as they were inducted into the US Labour Department’s Hall of Honour.

Descendants of the workers attended a ceremony marking the 145th anniversary of the final spike being driven into a railway line in Utah in 1868, thus completing the railway line.

US Labour Secretary Thomas Perez said the workers were conspicuously absent from any official photographs marking the centenary of the completion back in 1868.

“Railroad officials, government leaders and workers gathered at Promontory Summit in the Utah territory to celebrate the milestone, but there was a conspicuous absence there, conspicuously absent from the photos was the Chinese workers, whose gruelling work made this possible,” he said.

Chinese immigrant labourers made up 85 percent of the workforce that built the western leg of the transcontinental rail line.

They faced dangerous working conditions, low wages and social isolation as they worked between 1865 and 1869 on the railway.

One of the Obama administration’s most prominent Asian Americans, Christopher Lu, the US Deputy Secretary of Labour, told family members that Friday was the day “we begin to right an old wrong, we extend the much belated thanks of a grateful nation and we afford these incredible pioneers their much deserved place in American history.”

Susan Yu’s great grandfather worked on the railroad.

The money he earned helped save her family and their small village, Lobaksan, in southern China.

“I think it is wonderful that the Chinese railroad workers who worked so hard, who actually joined America, the east coast and the west coast, had such a big role in it, are finally being recognised for what they did,” Yu said on Friday.

Historian, Connie Young Yu, still has her maternal great-grandfather Lee Wong Sang’s working papers. He was a foreman on the Transcontinental Railroad.

Her parents attended a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the railway’s completion, where there was no mention of the Chinese labourers.

“The (then) Secretary of Transportation did not know that the Chinese built the western portion of the railroad,” she said.

Whatever the hardships the workers suffered during and after the railway’s construction, Connie Young Yu says their efforts were what built the nation.

“We were always proud of my ancestor and, you know, his comrades all the Chinese railroad workers because what the railroad meant,” she said.

“It’s the most American of institutions, most American of enterprises, the railroad, and so that means we are part of America.”

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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