In this second week of May, we’re kicking things off with a snapshot of an important (and sometimes forgotten) history.
May 10th, 1869 marks the completion of the U.S.’s first transcontinental railroad, a historic infrastructure project that signaled the advent of a new industrial era in the country’s history.
Although the historical record has largely erased any mention of their effort, the contribution of immigrant laborers to the completion of this project cannot be understated. Some estimates posit that as many as
20,000 Chinese immigrant workers
around ninety-percent of the recruited workforce
took part in the treacherous, back-breaking work of laying nearly 2,000 miles of track. History also tends to forget that these same Chinese laborers received only about forty percent the wages of their white counterparts, and that they were often burdened with more dangerous work.
These events, while only representing a small thread of the U.S.’s complex, historical fabric regarding Asian American inclusion, have been highlighted as an impetus for choosing May to recognize the many contributions and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States. In this 28th commemorative AAPI Heritage Month, we salute you!
P.S. Another transcontinental railroad fact for the history buffs among us: On May 11th, 1869, one day after the last spike had been driven to connect the last of the tracks, the first eastward train embarked from California. Saddled in its freight? A historic load of precious cargo, Japanese tea.