Federal Lawmakers Call for Stamp to Honor Chinese Railroad Workers

An illustration of Chinese railroad workers during the construction of the transcontinental railroad.
An illustration of Chinese railroad workers during the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

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By Chris Fuchs

Federal lawmakers from New York and California reintroduced legislation Thursday calling on the Postal Service to issue a stamp that honors the Chinese workers who built the transcontinental railroad nearly 150 years ago.

U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Ed Royce (R-CA) brought their resolution to the House the same week a golden spike was driven in 1869 in Promontory, Utah, which marked the completion of the rail link that joined the east and west coasts.

“The story of the Chinese railroad workers and the tremendous contributions they made to the growth and prosperity of our country must be told,” Meng said in a statement. “They deserve the recognition they earned, and a commemorative postage stamp would be a very appropriate tribute to this important part of American history.”

While building the transcontinental railroad, thousands of Chinese migrants braved harsh winters and brutal conditions laying down track, blasting through granite, and digging through steep terrain, according to the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University.

Recruited by labor contractors, most Chinese railroad workers came by ship from poor counties in Guangdong, a province in southeast China. Though records of worker fatalities weren’t kept, many Chinese were believed to have died on the job, their bones shipped back to China for reburial in their home villages, according to the project.

Meng’s legislation asks the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, which evaluates stamp proposals, to recommend to the postmaster general that the service issue a stamp honoring the Chinese transcontinental railroad workers.

Meng sponsored similar resolutions twice before, but they hadn’t been brought up for a vote, her office told NBC News.

Reintroduction of the measure comes during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrated each year since 1990. May was chosen in part because of the contributions Chinese made in building the transcontinental railroad, completed on May 10, 1869.

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“Even in the face of bitter discrimination, the nearly 12,000 Chinese immigrants who worked on the project were indispensable to its successful completion,” Royce, the California congressman and co-sponsor, said in a statement. “They and their descendants have left our country with an enduring legacy that has contributed to our vibrant Asian American community.”

The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service.

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