Chinese Americans in Yosemite

Bill in California Legislature Will Honor Roles Like Tie Sing’s

Contributions by yet another community of color—Chinese Americans—to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada are proposed to be honored by a bill introduced in the California state legislature.

Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 262 was submitted on Monday by Assembly member Frank Bigelow (R-District 5), who also introduced a bill in 2016 to rename part of a road into Yosemite as Buffalo Soliders Highway. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 25, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

The Buffalo Soldiers were four segregated black regiments of the U.S. Army, assigned to patrol Yosemite, as well as Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They are considered the precursors to the modern park rangers.

The pending legislation acknowledges the role of Chinese Americans in building roads heading in and out of Yosemite, their contributions in guest services at the park, and notes in particular Tie Sing, a backcountry chef for the U.S. Geological Survey, who was acclaimed as the chef for the 1915 Mather Mountain Party, which was influential in the development of the Park Service. USGS mapmakers named a 10,552-foot peak in Yosemite after the renowned chef. Jack Shu, a retired California State Parks superintendent, will lead a sixth pilgrimage to Sing Peak in late July.

Those contributions came in the face of racial hatred and institutionalized discrimination. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was this country’s first federal ban on immigration, based on race and class. It remained in force until 1943.

“As we are facing so many social issues, politically and in our society, we need to know that folks other than John Muir and Ansel Adams were involved in forming the national parks,” Shu said.

Shu was inspired to start the pilgrimage after viewing a video of park ranger Yenyen Chan discussing the contributions of Chinese to Yosemite. “My first thought was, ‘How come I don’t know about this?’ “ Shu said. He added that he also was inspired by attending a pilgrimage to Manzanar, one of the 10 World War II Japanese incarceration cites and now a national historical park, when he was in college.

“The big question now is how do we push these stories out,” Shu said. “One of the biggest ironies about Yosemite is the busloads of Chinese tourists that come through the park. They make their quick, five-minute stops to take a picture and go. What they should know is that the very roads they traveled on were built by Chinese.”

ACR 262 already has bipartisan support. Its co-authors include Assembly members Rob Bonta (D-District 18), Phillip Chen (R-District 55), Vince Fong (R-District 34).