Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's deja vu, all over again

Former Yankees manager Yogi Berra is well known for fracturing the English language, and the quote above is one of his originals.

A recent story in The New York Times brought that quote to mind again, but this time it relates to Chinese workers.

The world's first transcontinental railroad was built between 1863 and 1869 to join the east and west halves of the United States. Begun just preceding the American Civil War, it is considered one of the greatest American technological feats of the 19th century, surpassing both the building of the Erie Canal in the 1820s and the later crossing of the Isthmus of Panama by the Panama Railroad in 1855. Known as the "Pacific Railroad" when it opened, it served as a vital link for trade, commerce, and travel and opened up vast regions of the North American heartland for settlement. Shipping and commerce could thrive away from navigable watercourses for the first time since the beginning of the nation.

Work on the East Coast portion of the transcontinental railroad was done primarily by veterans of the Civil War, but most of the construction in the west was done by Chinese immigrants, who were originally brought in to provide labor during the California Gold Rush in the late 1840’s.

Not long after the completion of the Transcendental Railroad, a variety of forces came together to exclude Chinese workers altogether. The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882, and was not repealed until 1943, a year after the internment of Japanese Americans occurred in California.

It's a well known fact that history often repeats itself, and the American railroad and the Chinese now have a new connection.
This time, however, it's a LOT different than the old one.

The Chinese government recently signed a contract with the State of California to build high speed rail lines in the state. The Chinese bullet trains are capable of speeds up to 215 miles per hour, and are touted as being environmentally friendly. The California rail authority plans to spend $43 billion to build a 465-mile route from San Francisco to Los Angeles and on to Anaheim that is supposed to open in 2020, and a significant portion of the funding for the project will come from China. The authority was awarded $2.25 billion in January of 2010 in federal economic stimulus money to work on the project.

With apologies to Johnny Cash, the Orange COUNTY Special could be right around the corner, and it came about because of a connection that started 150 years ago.

Déjà vu, all over again.

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