Thoughts on History
Transcontinental Railroad 15th Anniversary
On May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point Utah, Leland Stanford joined the rails of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroad with a 17.6 karat gold spike. The new Transcontinental Railroad connected the United States for the first time: growing the west, changing commerce and ultimately how Americans lived.
Also, for the first time, Irish and Chinese immigrants, although segregated in separate work camps, labored alongside one another. When researching the book, I learned the relationship between the communities was fraught. The Chinese laid track at a much faster rate than their Irish counterparts which did not endear them to the Irish. A strong work ethic and sense of community helped the Chinese succeed…and stay alive. They also didn’t get inebriated, were strict about cleanliness, and boiled their food (preventing communicable and intestinal illness.)
As I gathered basic information to create Irish and Chinese characters who bridge the racial and cultural tensions to form trusting friendships, I found myself wishing there was more information about the daily lives and how these groups interacted. More primary research maybe be coming from Stanford University’s The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project “seeks to give a voice to the Chinese migrants whose labor on the Transcontinental Railroad that “helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West.” You can check it out at:
The Molly Maguires: White of Black Hats?
The Molly Maguires were Irish activists, some would say vigilantes, that started in Ireland and was transplanted to America with Irish immigrants. The Mollies spawned fierce conflicts in anthracite coal mining communities pitting coal miners against mine bosses and owners. Several members of this secret society were executed by hanging in 1877-78 after (possibly false) murder convictions.
WritingIrish Luck, Chinese MedicineI struggled about how to depict the Molly Maguires. My own grandfather worked as a “breaker boy” in the 1880’s just after the family came to Pennsylvania. He is depicted in the book watching miners eat sandwiches covered in coal dust, too tired and hungry to wash. The coal dust coated their stomachs and their lungs.
There is a long history of gangs and crime families that gestate in immigrant communities and often no easy way for vulnerable communities to assimilate. Had the family not gained enough financial stability to send him to school, he may have been forced to join the Molly McGuires. (Family lore has it that a distant uncle ran away rather than accept a murder for hire assignment.)
Were the Mollies downtrodden coal miners, overworked, underpaid and in debt to the “company store” without options against despotic owners and corrupt politicians? Were they men who perpetrated violence, murder, and committed terrorist acts? What do you think? Tell us here.
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I struggled when writingIrish Luck, Chinese Medicine, about how to depict the vigilante group, the Molly Maguires. Were they downtrodden miners who had no option but to fight back against despotic mine owners and corrupt politicians? Yes. Were they men who perpetrated violence, murder, and committed terrorist acts? Yes.
Irish Women, Chinese Men: Meant for Each Other
My heart was pounding the day I attended a lecture at Yale’s college reunion (not me! My husband is the grad.) Professor Mary Ting Yi Liespeaking about her book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City. Her book takes place about the same time as Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine. (The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City.
Because I had followed my muse, not history, an Irish woman and Chinese man fall in love, meeting through connections made when the Irish and Chinese laborers built the transcontinental railroad. Although they come from opposite sides of the world, the two connect of shared experience fleeing oppression, facing discrimination and hoping for a better life,
As I entered the lecture hall, I was afraid to find out if I was way off base. I had not researched how plausible a love match might be before they fell in love! What if this expert from Yale announced it’s impossible?
Turns out, in this case at least, my characters channeled the truth. I learned from Dr. Liu and subsequent research that Irish “Bridget’s” came to American to clean homes in the east and Chinese men came to build the railroad out west – thus the gender imbalance in both communities led to relationships and some marriages too.
Isn’t it cool when the Universe sends us gifts from our subconscious imagination that helps us along?
Expecting? Consider the Chinese Month of “Sitting In”
Sitting around in pajamas is one of my favorite things to do. I’m not sure I could have imagined it when my babies were born. In the picture I’m at a park with my two-year-old son and my daughter, who is less than a week old. I might have welcomed the idea of a month of “sitting in.”
Thanks to Henry B, an expert in acupuncture, who reviewed the parts of Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine where acupuncture was practiced, I learned of this embedded cultural practice for new moms. When Mai Ling, a character in the book, gives birth, I have her post-partum recovery. Include this practice. Given the historical realities of infant mortality, it’s easy to see how the “month of sitting in” came about. I wonder if today’s new moms would welcome a few more days in pj’s?
Learn about the NPR storyhttps://www.npr.org/2011/07/20/138536998/for-chinese-moms-birth-means-30-days-in-pajamas