Life and death are one thread,
the same line viewed from different sides.
–– Lao Tzu
The Wu family had emigrated to the U.S. from the Gansu Province in Northwest China when their only child, Jin, was fourteen years old. Hoping it might help him blend into the new culture they gave him an Anglo first name. But Jason, as he was anointed, had difficulty adjusting to his freshman year in an American high school because he found the English language particularly difficult to master. Despite this, he soon excelled in his schoolwork and ultimately graduated with honors.
In his first year at a prominent New England college, however, Jason was confronted with what seemed an insurmountable challenge. He was required to give a ten-minute talk in his Introduction to American History class. The idea terrified him. The thought of standing in front of his peers drained his lungs, making it nearly impossible for him to utter a word.
While the prospect of giving a presentation robbed him of sleep, locating a subject he could talk about was not a problem. On several occasions his parents and relatives had spoken about the exploitation of Chinese laborers in the 19th century gold fields and construction of the California railroads. At first he found the subject only marginally interesting, but as he searched the topic on the Internet for his class talk, he became keenly engaged by the plight of his forbears. It saddened and angered him to learn how abjectly they had been treated. I’ll let the class know about how terrible America was to these poor men, he thought with growing purpose. For a moment he felt confident about the assignment, but when he reminded himself that it involved making a speech, his resolve was shaken.
When he focused on his research, his anxiety receded offering him a temporary respite. “The Argon Mining Company and California Central Railroad employed thousands of Chinese workers,” stated one website article. He read on.
During and following their work in the gold mines and on the railroads, Chinese immigrants were persecuted by American workers, who perceived them as competitors for jobs during the major economic downturn in the 1870s. Many Chinese were brutalized and slain and forced removals, known as The Driving Out, resulted in the expulsion from the countryside and cities of a vast number of immigrants, many of them in this country illegally.
A photograph captioned “Miners suffocate in cave!” showing the bodies of several Chinese workers being laid out near the entrance of a mine drew Jason’s attention. In another photo, an Asian man of unusual height stood proudly and defiantly before two armed white men. An inscription beneath it stated, “Chinese labor leader Deshi Peng protests mining conditions.” In another photo, Peng was shown speaking before a group of his fellow laborers, his arms raised high and his fists clenched. What a brave man, thought Jason. His mood suddenly turned dark when yet another photo showed the rights activist being led away in chains. Its caption read, “Troublemaker led to gallows for inciting a riot resulting in two deaths and several injuries.”
“That was wrong. So wrong,” grumbled Jason. “He was standing up for his people . . . my people.”
…..to be continued