The Parade Marches On

by Rev. Norman Fong

February 25, 2019

norman fong

The day after the Big Chinese New Year Parade is always a mixture of both JOY and being extremely tired. It takes a lot of work to put on the parade and street fairs but it is so worth it for our community. I love seeing the whole community coming together and all the fantastic school, community, San Francisco civic leaders and corporate floats – all working together to showcase the best Chinatown in the United States.

However, there is an on-going Parade for our community that goes all year long. It is the constant march for Peace and Justice, not only for our community, but other immigrant communities and those seeking to be heard. We all need to march together for basic human rights and equality for all. I may get in trouble for saying this, but, with the current administration in Washington DC leading the way, it doesn’t look good for immigrants, people of color and the poor & middle class in America. We don’t need to build walls, but bridges that unite us. President Trump is proud that he cut taxes for Corporations but it does hurt the average common person and cuts funding for vital social programs.

There has been so many Chinatown leaders that have marched for Chinese Immigrant rights and Chinatown that we really need to appreciate more and we need to learn our own history better. A lot of non-Chinese don’t know what happened to our community and how much we’ve done for America. Recently, I went to China to visit my dad’s village and learned about so many Chinese that came to the United States from Toishan, Chung Saan, Guang Zhou… like my dad. Not only did they face discrimination but worked so hard to build up California and the Transcontinental Railroad which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in May 2019.

chinese laborers railroad
Chinese workers in the snow constructing the first transcontinental railroad.

chinese laborers railroad
Chinese railroad workers

Chinese laborers made up a majority of the Central Pacific workforce that built the transcontinental railroad east from Sacramento, California. The Irish built the other half but they did not have to go through mountains (great plains was flat). So many Chinese laborers suffered and even died building that railroad. With no modern machinery like today’s construction projects, the Chinese had to go through snowy mountains risking their lives using dynamite explosives and pray that they would not be killed. They had to build thirteen tunnels through the Sierra Mountains. It was an incredible feat. On May 10, 1869, the golden spike was hammered in at Promontory, Utah, joining the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads! (My dad told me that most of the Chinese who did the work were not allowed to be in the picture). Because of racism the Chinese were treated so badly. Two thousand Chinese workers went on strike for equal pay with whites and an end to all the beatings they took. The white managers cut off their food supplies until they went back to work. They did not get equal pay, but there was an agreement to stop all the harsh beatings on the Chinese.

chinese laborers railroad
Chinese railroad workers in snow

A lot of Chinese from around the country including SF Chinatown will be going to the 150th anniversary celebration at Promontory this year. Like I said, we really need to celebrate and parade on for recognition of what our ancestors did for this country. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Francisco has a lot of pictures from the old railroad days as they helped the Chinese back then to prepare to work on the railroads and equipped the workers with proper boots… I just saw a film on the Chinese Railroad workers and that is why I am writing about their history.

One of my favorite sayings is “We stand on the Shoulders of Giants”. I love that phrase because it reminds us that we should always appreciate our unsung heroes who paved the way first so that the next generation could have it better. The Chinese still have a long way to go. For example, it is so hard even to rename our airport after San Francisco’s first Chinese American Mayor. We still have to struggle to get recognition. More importantly, we need to tell our history so that others will understand how we have suffered just like other communities too. Life is like a never-ending parade where sometimes we face adversity and other times, like yesterday’s Chinese New Year Parade – we can celebrate. March on everybody appreciating those who marched before us.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on February 24, 2019

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