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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This year the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month theme is “Stop AAPI Hate: Solidarity, Community, and Celebration.” The month of May provides us the opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of AAPI’s impact in our communities. 9Paths will be featuring several people during May and invite you to join us in acknowledging their value and their insights on creating a culture of solidarity, community, and celebration.

But first, why do we celebrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during May? May is significant to the AAPI community for two reasons. The first Japanese immigrant arrived on May 7, 1843, in the United States. On May 10, 1869, 20 years later, the first transcontinental railroad was completed.

This treacherous and backbreaking project included more than 20,000 Chinese workers. The transcontinental connected the United States, and Chinese workers proved themselves despite being paid 50% less than their White counterparts. Without this transcontinental railroad, the United States would not move into the modern world.

Lealand Stanford, the railroad’s president, who initially advocated for keeping the Chinese out of his state during his 1862 inaugural address as Governor, shifted his point and came to admire the Chinese greatly. According to research by Gordan H. Change, Lealand told President Andrew Johnson that the Chinese were indispensable to building the railroad: They were “quiet, peaceable, patient, industrious and economical.” Later, in a stockholder report, Stanford described construction as a “herculean task” and said the railroad completion was due to the Chinese, who made up 90% of the Central Pacific Railroad’s labor force.