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Mt. Sing

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I’ve talked before about how national parks, and especially the classic nature parks of the American West, are whitened places, with indigenous histories erased and indigenous people evicted. That’s certainly true, but those white people needed servants and sometimes they left a bit of evidence about themselves.

Many of the immigrant workers were road builders and lodge workers, who took on these jobs so they could send money back to their families in China.

But during Chan’s research, one character in particular stood out. In historic black-and-white photos, he’s a sturdy man with a tuft of black hair, wearing a white apron. His name is Tie Sing. He’s believed to be Chinese, though no one knows exactly where he was born.

“He was the head cook for the US Geological Survey,” Chan explained. This was a key job at the time, considering that the USGS cartographers were mapping out the park and campaigning with people like John Muir and the first directors of the National Parks Service to preserve Yosemite.

Because Sing was a particular kind of servant that required close quarters with the whites he served, unlike, say, someone who took care of the horses or cleaned the tents, he could take a sort of mascot form. Today, there is a Mt. Sing in Yosemite National Park named after him. And one good thing about that is that it provides a location that marks Chinese presence in a land where they are usually erased. People interested in the him and the Chinese experience in California can now hike up to the top of the mountain.

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