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An Ignored Minority’s Reflection in 2020

Original post made by Grace Li, Amador Valley High School, on Dec 27, 2020

155 years ago, around 15,000 Chinese workers were recruited to ease the labor shortage in the greatest engineering project in America at the time, building a transcontinental railway that connects east and west. The employer, Central Pacific with up to 90% of Chinese employees, paid them $26 a month, half of the pay that white workers would get. Chinese workers toiled long hours, often at the most dangerous work conditions, cutting across the Sierra Nevada mountain range by hands. However, Chinese workers were largely ignored of their pivot role in this construction. They were not recognized nor visible at the Transcontinental Railroad celebration event; their experience at the time remains blank for a century. The project accomplished with a mix of national proud of the glorious construction achievement and ever-growing anti-Chinese sentiment. The latter eventually led to China Exclusion Act, the only legislation in US history that discriminates against a single ethnicity.
Part of the anti-Chinese sentiment was finger pointing to that Chinese railroad workers accepted lower wages and were willing to work long hours at the most dangerous conditions, which make others unable to compete. At a second thought of this accusation, you may find it absurd as if Chinese workers happily turned down a market- level -wage and safe- work -condition offer and embraced a harsh one. At a time of unregulated labor market, Chinese workers had no option to walk away but accepted whatever they got. They were further pressed to save from the meager wage to pay back the debt for trans-pacific ship ticket, to send money home to support family. All the painstaking were ignored and unheard. The Chinese workers had no choice but bitterly swallowed the unfair treatment.
Chinese Americans didn’t stagnate at lamenting the brutal history. With the United States transformed to a more promising land of equal opportunities, they co-evolve. For generations, Chinese Americans hold on the time-tested principles that back the upward mobility through barriers and adversity: hardworking, marriage and parenthood, personal responsibility, and unwavering dedication to education. According to a research by PEW Research Center in 2012, Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. This rising minority group makes identity politicians, who find it hard to fit in the convenient rhetoric of racism and oppression, scratch head. The Identity politicians are reluctant to conduct honest and truthful diagnosis of the social problems and turn to a deceitful narrative of systematic racism as the cause. However, they cannot explain how it is possible that Asian Americans are immune to the systematic racism and rise from the barrel of the bottom. To solve this ambivalence, identity politicians single out Asian American as expense to be ignored and push for systematic racism policies as cure to racism. The false diagnosis makes the goal to cure elusive.
The Chinese Americans refused to swallow the bitterness this time. In the recent Californian Proposition 16, a ballot for race and gender-based government preferential policies in public education, public employment and public contracting, Chinese American smelt the rat of communism. They stood up and built alliance with multi-race group to combat proposition 16. 7000 Chinese American volunteers devoted tirelessly efforts in the No on 16 campaign from May to November and donated over 70% of total 1.75 million campaign fund. By contrast, the Pro-proposition 16 lavishly funded with 32 million by a few mega donors. Proposition 16 saw a disgraceful landslide rejection joined by 57.2% Californian voters. Chinese Americans are backbone of the No on Proposition 16 campaign but the resounding victory for equality shall credit to Californians multi-race-multi-ethnicity voters with their like-minded defend of existing Californian constitution Proposition 209, passed by voters in 1996, which prohibits the consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin by state and local government agencies and public universities.
America’s great historic virtues and mistakes shall not be ignored and demolished. Oversimplifying the cause of existing racial inequity to mere external attributes surely lead Americans only to deeper divide not unity. The turbulent 2020 is coming to an end. The history for tomorrow is yet to be written.

Comments (1)

Posted by Mica
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Jan 2, 2021 at 11:05 pm

Mica is a registered user.

Let’s not forget women who historically could not get jobs other than low paying menial labor. Women still are paid less than their male counterparts. Somehow gender gets lost in the discussion of racial discrimination.
No excuses but let’s also remember that the USA is still the most ethnically and religiously diverse in the world.


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