Golden Spike Celebration – 2024

On May 11, 2024, at the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul, members of the Chinese American community in Minnesota gathered to celebrate the historic completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.  This event occurred at Promontory Summit, north of the Great Salt Lake in Utah Territory on May 10, 1869. 

The Chinese laborers’ involvement in the construction of the United States’ transcontinental railroad is a significant yet often overlooked chapter in American history. Starting in the 1860s, thousands of Chinese workers were employed by the Central Pacific Railroad, tasked with some of the most grueling and dangerous jobs. These workers were primarily migrants from the Guangdong province in China, driven to America by economic hardship.

The conditions faced by these laborers were harsh and perilous. They worked long hours in extreme environments, from the blistering heat of the Californian summers to the brutal winters in the Sierra Nevada. Their work included the dangerous task of blasting tunnels through solid granite and laying tracks over treacherous terrain. About 1300 Chinese workers died of the accidents during the railway construction. They were paid less than their white counterparts and often subjected to severe discrimination.

Nevertheless, the perseverance and engineering ingenuity of the Chinese laborers were crucial to the railroad’s completion. Their work involved not only physical labor but also technical skills in handling explosives and constructing complex infrastructure like bridges and tunnels. The successful completion of the railroad in 1869, marked by the famous “Golden Spike” at Promontory Summit in Utah, drastically transformed the United States by linking its coasts, thus promoting trade and settlement.

Chinese laborers were notably absent from the official photographs and ceremonies of the Golden Spike event at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, which marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

One hundred and fifty five years later, on May 11, 2024 at the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul, a small but enthusiastic group of Chinese Americans gathered to celebrate and recognized the historical event. It was sponsored by the Minnesota Transportation Museum and CAAM, Chinese American Association of Minnesota.

At the day long event, CAAM Chinese Dance Theater performed and the Twin Cities Chinese Language School educated with table top activities. A special guest, Summer Lee from San Francisco gave a brief talk at the event. A special thank goes to Josh Hoaby and Leah Harp of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, Ping Wang (CAAM), Ronald Tu (CAAM CDT) and AiChin Todd (CAAM TCCLS) for organizing this joyous day.

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