Meng Helps Launch New Display at Smithsonian that Honors Chinese Immigrant Laborers who Helped Build America’s Transcontinental Railroad

May 10, 2019
Press Release
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the railroad’s completion
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) helped to open a new display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that pays tribute to the Chinese immigrant laborers who helped build America’s Transcontinental Railroad.
The display, “Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad,” as well as its companion display, “The Transcontinental Railroad,” mark the 150th anniversary of the railroad’s completion which is today, May 10. They offer insight into the backbreaking labor that ultimately connected the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869. 
“Today marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad that connected our nation, spurred economic growth, and unleashed the unlimited potential of our nation,” said Meng. “Less known to the American public are the enormous contributions made by Chinese immigrant laborers who toiled in extreme weather to lay down the literal foundations of our nation. Today, we honor their memory, sweat, blood, and labor, and we provide them with the recognition they deserve. I thank and applaud the Smithsonian for recognizing and bringing attention to the story of the Chinese railroad workers. It is a story that must be told. As we celebrate their memory and this milestone anniversary of the railroad’s completion, I hope the contributions they made to our country are recognized and remembered by all Americans.”
“Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad” focuses on the nearly 12,000 Chinese laborers whose hard work and sacrifice made possible the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad which has long been considered one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century. Objects on view provide a detailed look into the daily lives of these railroad workers and a large graphic floor map shows the difficult and expansive terrain. More details can be viewed here.
The displays at the Smithsonian run through spring 2020.
In February, Meng introduced a resolution that seeks the House of Representatives’ recognition of the Chinese railroad workers. The measure seeks to honor the sacrifices they made for our nation and recognize the important role they played in America’s history. The resolution is presently pending before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
In addition, Meng submitted a statement in today’s Congressional Record marking the 150th anniversary of the railroad and the contributions of the Chinese railroad workers. See her full submission below.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize and honor the nearly 12,000 Chinese railroad workers who tirelessly worked on the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
As you may know, today marks the historic 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Transcontinental Railroad has long been considered one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century. After its completion, the railroad reduced cross-country travel time from six months to a single week—facilitating a new era of commerce; bringing the country closer together in the aftermath of the Civil War; and unleashing the unlimited potential of our nation.
But, too often in our conversations surrounding it, we emphasis the economic benefits; too often we forget to acknowledge the nearly 12,000 Chinese immigrants who made these benefits possible.
Madam Speaker, these workers endured both the arduous physical labor of constructing a railroad and the emotional trauma of being discriminated. They were given the most difficult, dangerous jobs, and were paid lower wages than other workers. While working in the Sierras, Chinese workers hung in baskets, 2,000 feet above raging rivers, to blast into the impenetrable granite mountain — to make way for laying the tracks.
Despite these conditions, the Chinese railroad workers were considered indispensable and were respected for their work ethic and discipline. Above all, these workers formed one of the first organized labor movements in the United States for better living wages and work conditions, which ultimately opened doors for future generations.
This is why I introduced a resolution in Congress since 2014 to recognize their important contributions and the dangerous risks they faced in the process. It is important for us to commemorate their efforts and share their stories, so that their role in America’s history is not forgotten. After all, their stories helped create the space needed for today’s growing conversations on Asian American diversity and inclusion.
Madam Speaker, I believe today’s celebration is not only about recognizing the many contributions the Asian American community has made—and continues to make—but it is also a step towards weaving the story of Asian Americans into the greater American tapestry. I am thankful for the indelible mark they left in the growth of our nation—and hope their contributions are further honored for the next 150 years.