This past Friday, Chinese workers who were integral to the completion of the American Transcontinental Railroad were recognized for their work. A ceremony was held in their memory with speeches and a lion dance at the spot where the final spike of the railroad was driven 150 years ago.
Although Chinese workers largely built the railroad that connected this nation (they were about 90% of the workforce), they were barred from citizenship by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese workers faced labor discrimination, which meant longer hours for less pay than white peers. Cutting across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the workers completed some of the most dangerous sections of the railroad. It’s believed that hundreds died, but this information was never recorded.
Reading this story, we are reminded of the ways that immigrants have made invaluable contributions to this country, regardless of our government’s choice to grant them legal citizenship or not. Part of doing better for future Americans is to recognize immigrants as a vital part of our economic strength, and to right the wrongs of history by giving them a legal path to citizenship.
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