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Forgotten Contribution of Chinese Laborers in California’s Wine Country

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Wine Country
Women and Men in California during Gold Rush. Wikimedia
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  • California Gold Rush caused the migration of Chinese
  • Contribution of Chinese workers in helping build Buena Vista Winery
  • Sonoma-Penglai Sister City Committee is raising funds to build a Chinese pavilion to honor their contribution

California, July 13, 2017: 

Role of California Gold Rush in Migration of Chinese

Discovery of Gold in 1848 by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in California sparked almost mass hysteria as it brought thousands of immigrants to the American west.  The New York Herald is said to be the first newspaper to confirm about the news of gold rush in California (on August 1, 1948). More than 300,000 people thronged from the United States and abroad seeking to strike it rich. The California Gold Rush also included the Chinese who stayed back even after the gold rush ended in 1855. The Chinese worked as unskilled labor mainly in construction of the railroads.

Contribution of Chinese workers in laying the foundation of Wine Industry

Very few people know that these Chinese workers played a vital role in laying the foundation for the famous California wine industry. People who visit by the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County get surprised when they learn about the forgotten past of Chinese laborers. Founded in 1857 it is the first premium winery of California. The people who helped in building it came from far off places while some of them also traveled north of San Francisco to work in the infant vineyards.

“From the late 1850’s to the 1870’s, they primarily were Chinese laborers. They actually built our building and played a huge role in the founding of Buena Vista,” said Tom Blackwood, general manager of Buena Vista Winery.

“They did all of the work of the fields, the plowing. The actual digging, planting and then the management of all the vineyards,” said Blackwood. “They definitely worked at the other properties, but Buena Vista was known to have the largest Chinese labor camp north of San Francisco.”

The Chinese laborers also dug the cave at Buena Vista Winery for the purpose of storing wines so they could age. But what still remains there, are the pick marks on the walls of the cave. The rocks which were dug from the cave were used as building blocks for the wine-making facilities at that time, and of those original buildings, two of them still remain to this date.

“A couple of my friends showed me, the so-called ‘Chinese rock fence,’” said Chinese American Jack Ding, pointing to a low fence made of rocks at the side of a busy road. “Local people, they still remember Chinese laborers did something for them.” “They worked here, lived here and most of them died here. They didn’t have a place to be buried,” said Ding to VOA.

 

Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County, California. Wikimedia

Story of Chinese Laborers still a mystery

Stories of the Chinese laborers passed down by word of mouth among the locals. Historians knew about them, but what happened to them isn’t certain. Immigrants from China experienced violent anti-Chinese sentiment, boycotts, and in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricted their immigration into the United States.

“We don’t understand where they went after they left the city of Sonoma. We don’t know a whole lot of names,” said former Sonoma city historian George McKale.

“This was sort of the forgotten history of Sonoma. We had sort of a shameful history regarding the Ancient Exclusion Act and people want to make things right,” said resident David Katz.

Wine Country Chinese Legacy Project, an effort to honor their contributions

To honor these nameless laborers, the Sonoma-Penglai Sister City Committee is raising money to build a Chinese pavilion, in the city of Sonoma. Katz and Ding who are the members of this Committee said that it would also be a piece of history for the new Chinese who are here. While the project aims to raise a total of $75,000, the Chinese sister city of Penglai has pledged $25,000 for building the outdoor structure, thus it will be called the Penglai Pavilion.

“We can see a lot of investors from China. They purchase wineries. They purchase properties. That is the reason why we want to build this kind of physical structure, to remind the people, remind them of the history, who we are and where we came from.”

The pavilion would help in educating the new generations of Chinese who visit the wine country learn about the history of their fellow citizens, said Ding.

– by Sabnam Mangla of NewsGram, Twitter: @sabnam_mangla


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California’s Net Neutrality Law Causes A Law Suit From The US Government

Oregon, Washington and Vermont have approved legislation related to net neutrality, but California's measure is seen as the most comprehensive attempt.

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net neutrality
California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a forum in Sacramento, Calif. VOA

California Gov. Jerry Brown has approved the nation’s strongest net neutrality law, prompting an immediate lawsuit by the Trump administration and opening the next phase in the battle over regulating the internet.

Advocates of net neutrality hope California’s law, which Brown signed Sunday to stop internet providers from favoring certain content or websites, will push Congress to enact national rules or encourage other states to create their own.

However, the U.S. Department of Justice quickly moved to halt the law from taking effect, arguing that it creates burdensome, anti-consumer requirements that go against the federal government’s approach to deregulating the internet.

“Once again the California Legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Net Neutrality
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, left, receives congratulations from Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, center, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, right, after his net neutrality bill was approved by the state Senate. VOA

The Federal Communications Commission repealed Obama-era rules last year that prevented internet companies from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet.

The neutrality law is the latest example of California, ground zero of the global technology industry, attempting to drive public policy outside its borders and rebuff President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Brown did not explain his reasons for signing the bill or comment on the federal lawsuit Sunday night.

Supporters of the new law cheered it as a win for internet freedom. It is set to take effect January 1.

“This is a historic day for California. A free and open internet is a cornerstone of 21st century life: our democracy, our economy, our health care and public safety systems, and day-to-day activities,” said Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, the law’s author.

net neutrality
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks after signing a bill, March 5, 2018, in Olympia, Washington, that makes Washington the first state to set up its own net-neutrality requirements in response to the FCC’s recent repeal of Obama-era rules. VOA

It prohibits internet providers from blocking or slowing data based on content or from favoring websites or video streams from companies that pay extra.

Telecommunications companies lobbied hard to kill it or water it down, saying it would lead to higher internet and cellphone bills and discourage investments in faster internet. They say it’s unrealistic to expect them to comply with internet regulations that differ from state to state.

USTelecom, a telecommunications trade group, said California writing its own rules will create problems.

“Rather than 50 states stepping in with their own conflicting open internet solutions, we need Congress to step up with a national framework for the whole internet ecosystem and resolve this issue once and for all,” the group said in a Sunday statement.

Net Neutrality
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, center, announces the vote was approved to repeal net neutrality, next to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, left, who voted no, and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who voted yes, at the FCC, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Net neutrality advocates worry that without rules, internet providers could create fast lanes and slow lanes that favor their own sites and apps or make it harder for consumers to see content from competitors.

That could limit consumer choice or shut out upstart companies that can’t afford to buy access to the fast lane, critics say.

The new law also bans “zero rating,” in which internet providers don’t count certain content against a monthly data cap — generally video streams produced by the company’s own subsidiaries and partners.

Also Read: President Donald Trump is a Fool When It Comes To Environment: California Governer

Oregon, Washington and Vermont have approved legislation related to net neutrality, but California’s measure is seen as the most comprehensive attempt to codify the principle in a way that might survive a likely court challenge. An identical bill was introduced in New York. (VOA)