Los Angeles artist Lauren YS began painting murals eight years ago and currently focuses her work on narratives surrounding the Asian American community and issues like antiracism, environmentalism, family, and feminism.
Her piece We Built the Tracks
We Travel On is an homage to the 12,000 Chinese immigrants who built the western section of the Transcontinental Railroad, which began in Sacramento, from 1863 to 1869. It depicts a railroad worker wearing a traditional douli—a sun hat—who carries the final Golden Spike that was driven in at the railroad’s completion in Utah. YS wanted to honor the Chinese laborers who took on this gruel- ing task to connect the nation and speed up cross-country transit from six months to one week.
She also painted the mural to raise awareness of the challenges these laborers faced, including sinophobia, anti-Chinese sentiment, and exclusionary legislation for their demands for equal pay. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States, and it set the precedent for anti-immigration laws that still plague the country today.
“Congress passed the Exclusion Act to placate worker demands and assuage prevalent concerns about maintaining white ‘racial purity,’” says YS. “The truth is that America has a long history of discriminatory behaviour toward Asian Americans, yet Asian Americans continue to contribute a rich wealth of diversity, culture, power, and memory to the fabric of American infrastructure.”
Sacramento runs deep with the blood of immigrants, and as the grandchild of immigrants and someone who travels often, YS values showcasing their trials and forbearance in California’s capital.