The six-year-long drive to recognize Chinese-Americans for their contributions to the history of Yosemite National Park culminated at the Yosemite Gateway Partners Fall meeting on Thursday.
There, members of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California and other contributors to the cause were presented with copies of California Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 262, which is dedicated to “recognizing the contributions of Chinese Americans to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada.”
The resolution was passed unanimously in August, but the ceremony honoring the passing was on Thursday in the Garden Terrace at Yosemite Valley Lodge.
“That’s a part of the story of Yosemite that we need to tell,” said Jack Shu, who worked in California’s Department of Parks and Recreation and is one of the biggest advocates for the resolution. “As we tell a greater story, a more inclusive and diverse story, hopefully that will take us into a deeper understanding of humanity and what these parks can really provide.”
In 1915, Tie Sing cooked what were reported to be unforgettable meals for Stephen Mather during a two-week expedition with business and cultural leaders to stress the importance of the National Park Service. Late in the 19th century, Chinese-Americans played a crucial role in the building of the Wawona and Tioga roads.
Sing’s legendary cooking, the road work, and even their work in hotels now sit alongside the contributions of Ansel Adams and John Muir in annals of Yosemite National Park and the state of California. Chinese Americans were able to accomplish all of this in the face of the racism that dominated the time period, a detail included in the resolution.
‘I didn’t know about that’
Shu said that the distribution of this information is crucial, because even he, as a Chinese-American, only became aware of these contributions six years ago when he watched a Yosemite Conservancy video that showcased all of the aforementioned Chinese-American contributions.
“My first response to it was, ‘I didn’t know about that. I’ve been coming to Yosemite all these years. What’s going on? How come I didn’t know?’” he said. “Then my reaction was, ‘We need to do something.’”
That “something” was originally an annual pilgrimage to honor the legacy left behind by the Chinese Americans in Yosemite. The Sing Peak Pilgrimage launched in 2013 and continues to this day. But more recently, the focus was the resolution.
With the support of Yosemite Park Ranger Yenyen Chan, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, several members of the Legislature’s Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and the region’s Assembly member, Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, the resolution passed unanimously.
During the meeting, Bigelow commended Shu for his work on the resolution. Shu was asked to stand and received a rousing applause from the audience.
“(Chinese Americans) were the labor. They were the hands. They were the feet. They were the backs. They made it possible for us to have the roads that we use today,” Bigelow said.
Ferguson Fire woes
The resolution was the only part of the quarterly meeting not dedicated to the Ferguson Fire.
The park service updated the audience on the dangers that still linger as a result of the fire, including the possibilities of falling debris on rainy days in the areas burned by the Ferguson Fire. A danger that already reared its head a week ago when a thunderstorm came through central Mariposa County.
The National Park service plans on monitoring and patrolling those areas closely.
Spokespersons from Yosemite gateway community visitors bureaus spoke of the struggles caused by the Ferguson Fire, including the financial losses brought upon by the road and Yosemite closures and the process of getting tourists excited about Yosemite again.