“Photographic Act of Justice” commemorates Chinese builders of Transcontinental Railroad

Over 200 Asian Americans congregated at Golden Spike National Park on May 10th in a 'photographic act of justice'. (Photo credit: Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lack Tribune)
Over 200 Asian Americans congregated at Golden Spike National Park on May 10th in a ‘photographic act of justice’. (Photo credit: Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lack Tribune)

Earlier last month, I posted a call advertising photographer and Asian American historian’s newest project: an effort organized by photographer and historian Corky Lee as well as Utah-area activist Ze Min Xiao to collect 145 Asian Americans at the site of the Golden Spike  — where the final spike of the Transcontinental Railroad was installed — on the morning of May 10th in Utah. Lee wanted to take a photograph of Chinese Americans at the site to both commemorate our community’s contribution to this historic moment in US history as well as to question why Chinese Americans had been excluded (both 145 years ago, and currently in annual reenactments) from Golden Spike ceremony.

Chinese labourers had been critical in the completion of the Pacific line, often performing some of the most dangerous tasks of blasting away rocks blocking the line’s passage.

Margaret Yee (left) and Su Lin Chen are descendents of labourers who built the Transcontinental Railroad. (Photo credit: Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lake Tribune)
Margaret Yee (left) and Su Lin Chen are descendents of labourers who built the Transcontinental Railroad. (Photo credit: Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lake Tribune)

On the morning of May 10th, Lee and over 200 Asian Americans hailing from cities as far away as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and parts of Guangdong traveled together in 3 busloads to Golden Spike National Park  in Utah to take the first image in this post, along with historic re-enactors who had gathered for a separate picture in period dress. Reports the Salt Lake Tribune:

The Chinese workers’ contribution, said New York City photographer Corky Lee, is “a neglected and forgotten,” piece of American history.

Saturday’s visit and photograph, he said, “is as an act of photographic justice.” The photographer worked with a Utah-based coalition, the Chinese Transcontinental Railroad Commemoration Project, to bring the group together on Saturday. He had the 200, including visitors from China’s Guandong Province, pose in front of the replica locomotives, as he did when a similar group came to the anniversary celebration in 2002.

The group also walked to Chinese Arch, a limestone span several miles from the Golden Spike National Historic Site’s visitor center.

The crowd of Asian Americans included brother-and-sister team Michael and Karen Kwan, who successfully petitioned the US Board on Geographic Names in 2005 to change the name of the arch from Chinaman’s Arch.

Photographer Corky Lee. (Photo Credit: Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lake Tribune)
Photographer Corky Lee. (Photo Credit: Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lake Tribune)

Last Friday, the US Department of Labor also inducted Chinese railroad workers of the Transcontinental Railroad into their Hall of Fame.

Did you like this post? Please support Reappropriate on Patreon!