Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month



Asian American Pacific Islander Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Throughout history, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have made significant contributions to the success and development of the United States. However, due to socio-economic and racial boundaries, the AAPI community often receives little recognition for its role in building America.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is celebrated to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the United States in May 1843. In addition, the Transcontinental Railroad construction was completed in May 1869, with significant contributions from Chinese immigrants.

From 1863 to 1869, Transcontinental Railroad was built through the efforts of skilled tradespeople. At the time, the companies contracted by Congress to build the railroad were only hiring white men. However, thousands more were needed to successfully complete the project, so the companies began hiring Chinese American workers (

As a trial run, Central Pacific Railroad assembled a crew of 21 Chinese workers. This proved successful, and the company increasingly began hiring more Chinese workers. A single crew once laid ten miles of track in one day, a record that still stands (

The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad provided new opportunities to Asian communities across the United States. At the height of its construction, Chinese Americans comprised about 90 percent of crews with about 10,000 to 15,000 workers (

Despite Chinese Americans comprising most of the crews, they were treated poorly. Chinese workers were often paid less than half of their white counterparts and had to pay for their own food, housing, and clothes ( They often faced physical abuse and were given the most dangerous jobs, such as using dynamite to blow open tunnels beneath mountains.

Throughout the construction of the railroad, anywhere from 150 to 2,000 workers lost their lives. Most of those deaths were among Chinese American workers ( Despite such an integral role in constructing the Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Americans were mostly left out of its history until recently.

By recognizing the contributions of the AAPI community to the American rail industry, we can undo this historical oversight and celebrate their immense contributions to the United States.


Sources Cited Editors. “Transcontinental Railroad – Construction, Competition & Impact.”, A&E Television Networks, 11 Sept. 2019,

Kennedy, Lesley. “How Chinese Immigrants Helped Build the Transcontinental Railroad:”, A&E Television Networks, 28 Apr. 2022,

“A Legacy from the Far East.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 10 June 2022,

Pandya, Meera Munoz. “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Asian-American Story.” National Postal Museum, 18 Nov. 2019,