Monday, December 13, 2010

Asian Pioneers

The Donner Party memorial is a few miles north of Lake Tahoe. It’s a memorial to the party of pioneers who perished in the terrible winter of 1846 and 1847 on their way to California. The pioneers with their families got caught in a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada. We went to the memorial after circling Lake Tahoe. We traveled from Reno. It was a spectacular drive with the mountain tops covered with snow. The mountains of the Sierra Nevada surround the city of Reno, which lies on a flat plain. The mountains around Lake Tahoe are snow capped but the mountains towards Las Vegas are semi-desert, with no trees or snow. These mountains are filled with rocks and large boulders and covered with brown earth. It is in striking contrast to the mountains towards California which have fir trees and snow.

The memorial had glass cases filled with old relics. There was one case about the Chinese laborers who worked on the Western railroads. Chinese laborers where often ‘shanghaied’ or kidnapped from China to work as indigent labor. The casinos in Reno are full of Asians mostly of Chinese immigrants. I can’t help but think that these Asians are the descendants of those railroad workers. The exhibit talked about racial purges and it would not stretch the imagination that these purges where aimed at the Chinese communities who have settled near the railroad stations. The nearest town is Truckee with a highway going to Reno. I can see the railroad tracks from the highway as we drove along the highway to Reno. The hotel I stayed in has slight traces of seediness, unlike the one in Las Vegas. These were a lot of young people in the hotel casino and most had their ski gear, ready to ski in Mt. Rose which is north of Lake Tahoe.

The television series ‘Kung Fu’ is about a Shoalin monk and his adventures in the west. A martial arts expert in the land of cowboys and Indians. At that time, it was a unique story because the history of the Chinese experience building railroads, the racial struggles, the rise in prosperities of Chinatown were never known. I had always thought about the rich merchant Chinese who lived in the Philippines and not the indigent Chinese laborers who were exploited in near slavery conditions. Slavery seemed to be the exclusive story of African Americans and the story of the other races that were treated harshly has not been told. So I was glad to see the exhibit about the Chinese laborers in the Donner party memorial. It was like their struggles and contributions are finally being recognized. The Chinese heritage and other Asian immigrants have every right to be in the country because of the contribution by their country men in the country’s development.

It’s like everything is turning full circle. It is ironic that China is buying Treasury bonds to keep the country functioning. Asian sovereign funds are helping Western countries survive their financial problems. Instead of the manual labor of the past, it is the money and skills that are the contributing to the economy. On a personal level, I am here for work, installing software in a warehouse, something that I have done many times in Asia; in Thailand, China, Japan and the Philippines.  Now the assignment is in Nevada, where Asian laborers have toiled in a previous century. In a certain way, nothing has changed and the world has always been a global economy, where different actors from foreign lands have always worked together. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction with the East ascendant. It feels like one is riding a wave at the right time. There will be opposition as there usually is and the messy deployment in Reno is an example.

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