A Perspective on the 150th Anniversary of the Golden Spike by Pat Goggins

IRISH HERALD,  July, 2019

Norman Ten with Pat Goggins at the ceremony. Norman grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, is a working member of SEIU and President of APALA. Norman co-ordinated the First Prize Railroad Worker unit in the SF Chinese New Year’s Parade.

Thank you for your front page coverage of the May 10 Gold Spike Ceremony at the 150th Anniversary of the Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the U.S. It was significant for Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall to applaud all who labored and sacrificed to build the railroad. This inclusiveness is so important because the past reporting emphasized the business financiers and left out the thousands of workers, especially non-whites.  

The various worker groups included an estimated 20,000 Chinese who constituted approximately 90% of the work force coming from California to the East on the Central Pacific, the estimated 10,000 Irish who constituted approximately half of the workers coming west on the Union Pacific (and considerable numbers on the Central Pacific too), many recently emancipated African Americans, Mormons, Italians, American Indians and others.

There were 35 official photographs taken at the original 1869 ceremonies and only one included Chinese. For example, Chinese were missing in the universally distributed original iconic photo, shown as recreated in your Herald article, even though the original photo had over a hundred people in it. History has been misrepresented. We can, and should, imagine the insult and hurt. We must also remember the discriminations against the Chinese who were paid less for the same work and assigned the critical and most dangerous work. Over 1200 Chinese died in powder blasting and avalanches.

Incredibly, the May 10 re-enactment ceremonies over the 15 decades have focused on the capitalists, Leland Stanford et al.
At the 100th Gold Spike anniversary in 1969 respected Chinese-American Philip Choy of the Chinese Historical Society of America, San Francisco, was invited via telegraph to attend and speak – yet when Phil arrived he was bumped so that another could speak. Believe it or not, the favored speaker was John Wayne.
Further xenophobia was exhibited in 1969 by Keynote speaker John Volpe, U.S. Secretary of Interior, who bragged, “Who else but Americans could drill tunnels in mountains 30 feet deep in snow?” Of course, the Chinese were not allowed to be citizens. This infamous statement was unforgettably witnessed by Carl Nolte of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The overriding reality of political awareness among Chinese in the U.S. is derivative of the extreme prejudice against Chinese that unfolded during the economic strife following the waning of the gold mining and railroad jobs and culminating in the 1870s and 80s with the deplorable 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The working class competition between Chinese and Irish which was greatly fomented by sand lot labor demagogue Denis Kearney in San Francisco needs to be acknowledged and understood. History is always still in the making. We Irish can help our Chinese brothers and sisters tell their story by recognizing our roles, having simpatico today and sharing mutual concerns. We had a contingent of Irish from California, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Kansas who celebrated the accomplishments of all workers and showed solidarity with Chinese at the 150th Golden Spike activities in Utah. Let’s do it everywhere. The Chinese community supporters who won first place with their fabulous railroad workers unit in the recent San Francisco Chinese New Year’s Parade are interested in participating in our St. Patrick’s Parade of 2020. Let’s welcome them with Caed Mille Failte.

Several developments in recent years have raised consciousness about the forgotten Chinese railroad workers, including the formation of the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association in Salt Lake City, whose President Michael Kwan organized an influential 8 day Golden Spike Conference regarding the 150th Transcontinental Anniversary and the Chinese Railroad Workers in America Project at Stanford University co-directed by Gordon Chang whose new book “Ghosts of Gold Mountain – the Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad” is prominent among the exploding plethora of publications on the subject. This transformative scholarly attention and community activist lobbying created a cultural and social force compelling the current inclusive nature of the 150th anniversary activities.

In the spirit of collaboration and inclusiveness, 
as demonstrated at Promontory Point by Keynote Speaker & historian Jon Meacham, Secretary Elaine Chao U.S. Dept. of Transportation and 
Daniel Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland,

Patrick Goggins 

ps – The Last Tie, into which was tapped the Gold Spike, was harvested from a California Laurel Tree on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County and fabricated by a professional billiard table maker in San Francisco. 

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