ashland.news
December 8, 2023

Viewpoint: We must choose to keep our ‘Golden Connections’

Irene Kai, center right, lined up with spike in Golden Connections sculpture, speaks with the sculpture's designer (back to camera) at its dedication on April 23. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news
May 1, 2022

Public art vandalism can’t continue the chain of trauma

By Irene Kai

It is a big deal for a city of Ashland’s size to have a robust Public Arts Commission to install numerous pieces of public art around the city. That says a lot about this community that we collectively care and are willing to spend time to reflect on our state of being.

Irene Kai

This is especially true with the sculpture called Golden Connections that was just dedicated at a ceremony on April 23 at the Railroad Park. It is deeply personal to me; it symbolizes the final connection for Southern Pacific’s complete rail circuit around the nation in Ashland on Dec. 17, 1887, and honors the Chinese workers who built the railroad. These men left their families and villages in Southern China in search of opportunities and better pay to send money back to their families. They often took on the most dangerous jobs, like carrying explosives to blast through the Siskiyou Mountains. They made up nearly 80% of railroad workers yet they remained nameless and faceless, and faced discrimination and poor treatment.

My family is from Toishan, the same village where the railroad workers were from. My great-grandfather immigrated around the same time with friends and relatives to San Francisco and most of them came to work for the railroad.

I am the great-granddaughter of friends and relatives of these men who walked on the same ground as I stood on in front of the sculpture. I was overcome with emotion as I expressed my gratitude to the city of Ashland and the Public Arts Commission for the recognition and belated expression of gratitude to my family’s friends and relatives.

After the ceremony, my friend Meiwen came over to me and showed me a photo she took of the sculpture a few days before at night. The inscriptions on the sculpture illuminated a beautiful white glow, exuding a gentle triumphant acknowledgment that it takes us all to create great accomplishment like the railroad that connects our country. Then she showed me the plexiglass under the cutout of the steel where the light shines through the inscriptions at night. A thick purple paint covered the entire inscription, and the same paint was sprayed on the surrounding area. Someone had already cleaned off the paint on the steel before the ceremony, but the paint on the plexiglass and the surrounding area was not yet removed.

I was stunned, feeling as if a thousand daggers stabbed into my heart. I was standing on the same ground, over a hundred years later, the same discrimination strikes again. I went back to visit the sculpture at night to see if any light would shine through the paint. The inscription now had the eerie glow of reddish purple, as if blood was oozing from the words.

The next two days were a blur. I couldn’t breathe; I felt as if I were suffocating in deep trauma. When I experienced the same discrimination as my ancestors, the pain hit me with such force because I am carrying the pain from the generations before me. The men who worked on the railroad walked away in silence over a hundred years ago. They had no choice. I need to break the chain; I will not turn away in silence.

I have a voice, to proclaim to this community that I choose to keep the Golden Connection with you, and with every living being on this planet. We must choose to keep our Golden Connections with each other. Our lives depend on it.

Irene Kai serves as a board officer on the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission Board of Directors. This piece originally appeared in the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission newsletter for April 26, 2022. View the three-minute video of Kai’s remarks at the dedication at this link: youtu.be/iclqedDaU1Y.

Editor’s note: Ashland.news reached out the Ashland Police Department, asking if they knew more about when this incident occurred. They first learned of it Monday, April 25, after the dedication on April 23. An officer who checked into it reported finding “faint purple paint on one side of the monument and some additional purple writing on the sidewalk next to it. I could not make out what it was supposed to say.” Anyone with more information about the incident can contact the police department at 541-482-5211, or call the anonymous tip line at 541-552-2333 or email tipline@ashland.or.us.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

Related Posts...

Letter: Shop locally

Brent Thompson: In our hunt for presents, hopefully we don’t forget that stores in Ashland’s downtown core and parts of Ashland Street (aka Highway 66) offer crafts, books, comics, shoes, plants, baked goods, chocolate, new and used clothes, kitchen items, games, antiques, pet supplies, art supplies, collectibles, and many other things.

Read More »

Latest posts

Relocations: Politics far and near

Herbert Rothschild: Apparently, Kissinger insisted on recording practically every word he said. His aides later commented that he needed to keep track of which lie he told to whom.

Read More >

Ashland City Council approves camping ordinance in split vote

On a 4-2 vote, the Ashland City Council on Tuesday approved the first of two required readings of an ordinance to control time, place and manner of camping in Ashland. The ordinance will control occupation of public spaces and enforce behavior, rather than status, and does not seek to punish those who are homeless, the acting city attorney told the council.

Read More >

Mt. Ashland Ski Area pushes back opening day, despite snowstorm

Andrew Gast, general manager of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, had hoped that this Saturday would be opening day for skiing this season, but he admitted defeat on Thursday, despite the latest snowstorm. Things are now day to day, while he, a couple hundred employees and untold numbers of skiers wait for more snow.

Read More >

Explore More...

Relocations: Politics far and near

Herbert Rothschild: Apparently, Kissinger insisted on recording practically every word he said. His aides later commented that he needed to keep track of which lie he told to whom.

Read More>

Ashland City Council approves camping ordinance in split vote

On a 4-2 vote, the Ashland City Council on Tuesday approved the first of two required readings of an ordinance to control time, place and manner of camping in Ashland. The ordinance will control occupation of public spaces and enforce behavior, rather than status, and does not seek to punish those who are homeless, the acting city attorney told the council.

Read More>
ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.

NewsMatch is here! For a limited time, your donation to Ashland.news will be DOUBLED.