This episode of America’s National Parks was written and hosted by Jason Epperson, with audio from Yosemite National Park.
Pictured: The US Geological Survey’s famous backcountry cook, Tie Sing.
The contributions of immigrants to our great nation are undeniable. Some of our greatest institutions were literally built on the backs of immigrants of all stripes. Our national parks are no exception. In the west, some of the most significant contributions to Yosemite National Park came from Chinese Americans.
In the 19th century, a handful of Chinese came, mainly as merchants, former sailors, to America. The first Chinese people of this wave arrived in the United States around 1815. By 1880 there were 300,000 – a tenth of the Californian population, many who wanted to make their fortune in the 1849-era California Gold Rush, but mostly they came for work and a better life. They helped build the First Transcontinental Railroad, they worked Southern plantations after the Civil War, and they helped establish California agriculture and fisheries.
From the outset, they were met with the distrust and overt racism of settled European populations, ranging from massacres to pressuring Chinese migrants into what became known as Chinatowns. Laws were made to restrict them, including exorbitant special taxes like the Foreign Miners’ Tax Act of 1850. They were prohibited from marrying white European partners, which was particularly problematic because few Chinese women came to America early on.
In the early days of Yosemite Chinese immigrants played an important role in shaping the park that we know today. Park Ranger Yenyen Chan helps us explore their history.
Know Before You Go:
Yosemite is a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.
First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.
Yosemite receives 95% of its precipitation between October and May and over 75% between November and March). Most of Yosemite is blanketed in snow from about November through May.
You can drive to Yosemite all year from the west, but the pass from the east is closed from around November through late May or June.