Exhibit Tells Story Behind Construction of the Nation’s First Transcontinental Railway

Posted On: February 18, 2016
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From left to right: Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres, Associate Director, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum; Li Fu, Executive Director, Chinese American Librarians Association; Murray Lee, Curator, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum; Xi Chen, UC San Diego Library; Simeon Man, Assistant Professor, UC San Diego History Department; Hilton Obenzinger, Associate Director of the Chinese Railroad Workers Project at Stanford University.

The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental, an exhibit on display in Geisel Library, traces the amazing trajectory of the roughly 12,000 Chinese American workers who sacrificed life and limb during the four-year construction of the Transcontinental railway, which began in 1865.

The exhibit was produced by the Chinese Historical Society of America and the Chinese Railroad Workers Project at Stanford University, is on display through February 29, 2016 in Geisel Library on the University of California, San Diego campus. The Chinese American Library Association’s Task Force on Chinese Railroad Workers, which seeks to increase awareness and appreciation for the contributions of Chinese Americans, also helped to bring the exhibit to the UC San Diego Library, the first institution to host the exhibit after its debut last summer at Stanford University and the Chinese Historical Society of America.

At the January 22 reception held to celebrate the opening of the exhibit, University Librarian Brian Schottlaender welcomed colleagues from Stanford University and the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, and stressed that it was an honor for the Library to present the exhibit to the campus and local communities. “We are 12622230_1041736635865251_3677454915772756217_overy pleased that we can help to increase public awareness and appreciation for the amazing contributions made by Chinese Americans in building our country’s first transcontinental railway,” said Schottlaender. “This is such an important part of our history; it’s a story that truly needs to be told.”

More than 100 friends and supporters attended the reception, which included commentary from UC San Diego historian Simeon Man, a scholar of Asian American Studies;  Hilton Obenzinger, associate director of the Chinese Railroad Workers’ Project and a Lecturer in American Studies & English at Stanford University; and Murray Lee, Curator of Chinese American History for the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

During the program, Professor Man provided a brief history of Chinese railroad workers and explained the broader context of Chinese exclusion and racism in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilton Obenzinger spoke in depth about Stanford University’s Chinese Railroad Workers’ Project, and their goals for 2019, the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railway. He also encouraged people to contact the project if they are descendants of any of the railroad workers or are aware of any historical details surrounding the workers. Murray Lee discussed his grandfather’s personal experiences as a railroad worker, including an adventurous encounter with Native Americans.

12615758_1041736759198572_393254191770830471_oThose who miss the exhibit at Geisel Library will be able to view The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum located in downtown San Diego, in March 2016.

Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University (CRRW), in collaboration with the Chinese Historical Society of America, is continuing its work to identify the descendants of railroad workers to honor the memory and legacy of their pioneer forefathers. By sharing the stories of the descendants of known Chinese railroad workers who helped to build the American West, the initiative hopes to increase awareness and appreciation for the significant role the workers played in completing a monumental and life-changing project. For more information about the initiative, please visit: http://chsa.org/2015/07/work-of-giants-chinese-railroad-worker-project/.

 

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