The Chinese immigrants did dangerous work
The musical play, Gold Mountain, playing at the West Valley Performing Arts Center tells a story of Chinese immigrants who worked on building the railroad. Their part in working on the infrastructure of the United States is a part of history which is not well known by the general public.
Everyone has heard of the gold rush in California in the 1840s. People flocked to California to find gold and hopefully to become wealthy overnight.
Chinese travelers had gone around the world, and some established homes in other countries. They were not afraid of embarking on new adventures and going to faraway lands. After the news arrived in the Chinese provinces in 1849 of a mountain of gold, Chinese immigrants started to head for California. Around 25,000 Chinese had moved to California by 1851 in search of "gold mountain." [Library of Congress]
These Chinese immigrant men came to the United States with high hopes and big dreams. Those dreams were shattered when they arrived in California. They found that the gold mountain was an illusion. Mining was hard and uncertain work. The work was scarce, and the immigrants found that it was difficult to earn enough to provide food to eat.
They were in a land strange to them where they did not speak the language and the customs were different. They found it difficult to even survive much less to be able to send money home to their families in China. The Chinese immigrants found no gold, and they were out of luck.
Thousands of these Chinese immigrants found work on the Central Pacific Railroad. It was back breaking work. The most dangerous job was lighting a fuse to blast the tunnel through which they were required to lay railroad track. The men who took that job had to be able to light the fuse and run fast to get out of the tunnel before the explosion. Most of those who did the job lost their lives. They died in the process because they could not escape quick enough out of the tunnel before the blast. The railroad would not provide longer fuses because that would be more expensive. Death to the workers was more acceptable to them than providing longer fuses for safety.
The Chinese railroad workers had to work longer hours than their European counterparts. They were required to work twelve hour days for less pay than the others received for eight hour work days. They also had to pay for their own tools and food, which the other workers were not required to do. The Chinese workers were given the most dangerous jobs because their lives seemed less important and less valued to the management of the railroad..
The workers tried to strike and get better working conditions and more pay. That was not to be as their demands were refused.
This story of struggle and hardship is depicted in the Gold Mountain musical production. The writer, Jason Ma, wanted to tell the story so that others could know about how important these Chinese immigrant railroad workers were to the United States infrastructure. They suffered greatly as they were subjected to injustice and death as they helped to build the railroad in the West to join the nation together. There is also a love story included in the story.
The musical play Gold Mountain, which is being performed by talented singers and actors, will run at the West Valley Performing Arts Center until November 20, 2021. Many of the performers have Broadway credits. This is a wonderful opportunity for residents of Utah to experience live theater as they learn about an important part of American history.
[Reference: Library of Congress, Gold Mountain Musical Production]