Chinatown Descendant Recounts Family’s Struggles and Triumphs


By Emily Maxwell
Jan. 24, 2023


Like so many who flocked to the West during the mid-1800s, Chin Lin Sou left everything behind in southern China to chase the dream of building a new fortune in a new country. He joined the gold rush that drew many here, but by the time he arrived, the heyday had passed and mines in small mountain towns were shuttering. 
 
“The gold wasn't lining the streets like they thought it was going to be,” said great-granddaughter Linda Jew.
 
Being a long way from home, Chin Lin Sou changed directions. He became a merchant and started an insurance company that served other Chinese immigrants. At 6 feet tall with light gray eyes and the ability to speak English fluently, he stood out and found work with the railroad. He led a team of Chinese immigrants through the completion of the western section of the Transcontinental Railroad, which spanned from California to Utah. 
 
“We never learned about the Chinese building the railroad in our history classes,” said Jew. 
 
The completion of the railroad was instrumental to saving towns such as Denver, which were  otherwise isolated from the rest of the country. It shaped the physical, political and economic landscapes of the United States for future generations. But once the work was complete, Chinese immigrants struggled to settle into Western life.
 
Despite her great-grandfather’s many accomplishments, contributions that led to a stained-glass portrait of him in the State Capitol, Chin Lin Sou struggled with racism throughout his life. 
 
“If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here,” Jew said. “He went through all the hardship and the racism, and everything to let his family stay here and become successful.” 
 
Chin Lin Sou’s descendants also faced racism. Jew’s mother couldn’t find a job in her field despite having a college degree and could only get restaurant work. And Jew’s uncles were denied the opportunity to purchase homes in Denver though they were proud World War II veterans. 
 
Jew only discovered the details of her family’s legacy in the past 10 years due to the diligent research of her late sister Carolyn G. Kuhn.
 
“Carolyn wanted to do all the research because she wanted the younger kids, the fifth and sixth generation, to know about our great-grandfather and not forget about how they struggled to get to this country,” she said. 
 
Today, Chin Lin Sou’s descendants share their family's stories and the important role Chinese immigrants played in the West. 
 
“I'm more worried about people not appreciating what a good country, great country, this is because of the many different people who built it,” she said. “Kids don't really know the history right now. And that's what I'm afraid of. That it'll all be forgotten.”