humiliation day


the day when people gather under
glimmering, shimmering fireworks,
candescent coalescent explosions
of joy


in the quiet of my mind
the calm hum in the ambience of my thoughts
there sits an ivory lady dressed in jade;
behind a gilded red curtain

she says,
"can you hear me? i am your ancestor,
	the ethereal phantom of your past,
		the beginning of our ancient bloodlines...

i'm here because though you would call this day 'canada day'
there is a history that no one will tell you,
but here in the quiet of mind you can remember
that this used to be our humiliation,
that the happy and proud people you share this day with
were once banished from voting,
separated by marriage,
forced to pay two-months =

so grandma could eat,
so auntie could learn,
so great uncle would be able to come
ca na da,
	and pull rickshaws..

today was once called 'dominion day'
and was celebrated by the white state that would
have your hands for railroad planks,
and feet for steel wheels,
but not allow you to be equal..."

so today i march on
waving a dragon flag
under the golden sun...

and under the night sky,
painted in pastel purple and red
in my heart i remember:

that a battle unfinished
is a battle not lost

and not won.

July 1st, 1923 was the first “Humiliation Day” as it was called by Chinese-not-Canadians when the Dominion of Canada enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act – which prevented many Chinese people to immigrate. Many married couples and children were separated for years, decades, and some never reunited in their lifetimes. They are the never-knew-their-dad people and the paper sons (immigrants who were only related on forged documents). Though my own family never paid the Chinese Head Tax, it still prevented my dad and Grandma and Great Aunt from coming to Canada for five years, meaning Grandpa was only an imaginary person to my dad for his first years of life. I choose today to remember this shame and how it continues to affect us in the present day.

why (do i always)





have to explain..

that my cantonese
is 'siu siu.'

'mm sick gong,'

  i can't speak


that long before
my ancestors came to the
new land, i was already
forgetting a home and slipping
through my small fingers
was a language


that i wish my ability to communicate
was fed to me at birth -

i worked so hard to forget
and to remember...

why do i always have to explain
that i cannot speak,

but i understand.

From time to time

From time to time I’ll have a conversation with an American and although I can’t directly tell that they are American, they will eventually reveal their identity in passing. Sometimes, because I’m a Canadian, I’ll hear them reveal how they believe that things are better in Canada. For instance, I might hear them describe how there are still race problems in the states, unlike the progress of we, the rainbow-nation neighbour of the North. I politely listen to that person even though I disagree as it’s not an unreasonable belief. Many Canadians believe that we’ve moved ahead of lots of our racial issues and often tote our national identity as one which values multiculturalism, as a proud tapestry or mosaic. But I don’t really buy that.

In middle school we used to have this thing called “multicultural day.” This day was set up to celebrate the different ethnicities that comprised our schools and as a custom, we were encouraged to bring our ethnic cuisine to share. We would have wide aluminum pans steaming with fried rice, tasty and fragrant curries, pita and hummus, cheesy and potato-ey perogies, and sometimes delicious, sweet baklava. This was usually a good day for lunch as I could skip the ordinary sandwich or burdensome thermos for some hot, fresh, spicy, and savoury food. Come lunch hour, we enjoyed our food and then went on to do usual adolescent kid stuff: talk to friends, play a game of soccer or tag, trade snacks. Later, we might have had a block of the day – usually in social studies – where we had a quick discussion about issues of multiculturalism, none of it I can remember now.

All of that seemed really cool, and even as I went to a very privileged school (upper “middle” class) I bought into the idea of how great multiculturalism is in our country. I ate the superficial assumptions, like racism isn’t really a Canadian issue, as easily as I scarfed down lunch. Really, I had no idea what multiculturalism was about, aside from some generic assumptions.

If Canada really were a multicultural country, why do we need to have a “multicultural day?” Is it a day where everybody can remember that they’re racially different or oblivious to their ancestral traditions? What if my Canadian parents – sorry, Chinese-Canadian parents – want to bring homemade fried chicken?

A multicultural nation would celebrate and accept and recognize our differences everyday. Instead of simply coloured folk making dishes for white folk, maybe white folk would make some dishes to bring for everyone to enjoy, too. Maybe I would have some tasty indigenous cuisine with my samosa, because parents brought food everyday or the cafeteria made them. Maybe we would not just learn to cook yaki soba in cooking class, but also learn to carve Russian dolls and read fantastic myths of Old Arabia.

Schools are more than the students, they’re the community.

I hate fake Chinese accents

Racist Picture of a Chinese Man

I hate hearing fake Chinese accents. They’re not funny and they’re racist. What’s worse is Russell Peters made a routine using a Chinese accent which was circulated across North America thanks to the viral nature of Youtube and the internet. Now when I hear someone put on a fake Chinese accent – whether they are Chinese or not – I can’t tell if they are referencing Russell Peters or if they are participating in a mockery of my cultural and racial heritage (which they are). To be fair, when I first saw the routine, I’d enjoyed it a lot as I thought it held Chinese and Indian people (both particularly racialized where I’m from, Vancouver) in a constructive, funny manner. But that was in high school and really, I hate the racist humour. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I will be the first to shoot the shit with someone and can appreciate some banter with a close friend about our racial differences but that is a far cry from poking “fun” and reinforcing a negative stereotype.

Fake Chinese accents are not intelligent humour. They’re the opposite: they’re shallow generalizations that reinforce and regurgitate racist values with little or no articulation at all. Intelligent humour changes people. It changes the way we look at the world and how we act in our life after it. Give me Margaret Cho, Richard Pryor, or George Carlin.

I hate that Chinese people get boxed into a certain mode of speech. I hate that anybody gets made fun of by the way they talk whether it’s an accent, speech impediment, or otherwise. People are so quick to other and judge. I don’t know about you but when I hear someone speak with an accent, I know that they can speak another language as well as I can speak English. They are articulate. I’ll laugh if they say something funny, but I will make it known that it’s because of how it reflects on the individual person, not because they are Arabic or Nepalese or deaf or whatever. I know that person has once experienced pain, fear, confusion and isolation based on the fact that they speak differently alone. And that is terrible because it never needs to happen but it does.

Don’t talk in a Chinese accent around me unless that’s just how you talk.

‘We’ Were Made for This: A White Man’s Colonial History

The following video has been on air for a few months now in anticipation and support of the Winter Olympic games here in Vancouver:

“We Were Made For This” commercial from The Hudson’s Bay Company

At first glance, I had no particular attachment to the above video but having watched it appear on the television multiple times between Olympic events, I began to feel a dull, antipathetic feeling in my stomach. I have had trouble pinpointing what rubbed me the wrong way, mostly because issues of race and White privilege are often subconscious these days, but now I see it is in how Canadians are represented to be a specific, privileged class, race, and heritage.

I am personally at a crossroads with the Olympics: I see where the Olympics have come from (hundreds of millions of dollars spent for corporate interests, the displacement and oppression of Vancouver’s most marginalized people, the non-acknowledgment of BC’s historical occupation of First Nations’ land, absurd amounts of people lining up for ephemeral pleasures) and yet I still enjoy watching athletes compete on the television and holding my hopes high for another gold medal for Canada. But there are always good aspects about bad things.

Here are some reasons why I feel contention with the above commercial:

1. The “we” this Bay ad refers to is not the inclusion of all Canadian people, it is the exclusive group of white, European people who came to Canada and conquered it as their own. I think the greatest danger is in how much this requires a second or third look because this kind of racism is covert and subconscious. It’s clear that Canada, and specifically Vancouver, is multicultural and to market the narrow image of Canadians as simply white people is not a progressive, accurate message.

2. The exoticization of our land as a harsh climate, to be conquered and survived ‘together.’ First, as mentioned above, the advertisement addresses the viewer as being a part of the privileged, white culture whose roots reach from the ‘founding’ explorer’s heritage to the present-day (white) Canadian. Second, this land was being survived and supported by First Nations people long before white settlers came. Though the theme of human vs. nature is not necessarily wrong, I believe it is outdated and it is this perspective we need to CHANGE in order to begin to heal the planet of all the damage we have caused it. Third, the advertisement supports eugenics with the belief that “we” (white people) were born to dominate the land as a result of not only genetics, but also by birthright.

3. This ad is based on the history taught in schools which is mostly written about white men, by white men, for white men. The Hudson’s Bay Company ad mirrors and perpetuates the white privilege held by white men in Canada and is not a step forward in racial politics.

The ‘we’ addressed in the advertisement is clearly not the entire WE. Not all who are Canadian share the portrayed heritage and it’s interesting as citizens WHAT we are expected to adopt – a “love” of the Olympics and  a “love” of ‘OUR’ nation’s history. We will not move forward if we continue to stagnate around these issues.

Getting ‘it’: a bus ride, a memory, a reflection

The other day I got on the bus at the station ready to go home as any other, when behind me sat a couple of high school kids. They must have been fifteen. They were talking about the usual boy subjects, trying out their newly deepened voices as most fifteen-year-old boys. They lived along the same bus route as me, but as I noticed from their conversation, they did not go to the same high school I went to. One went the the private school and one went to the French immersion school. A topic of conversation between the kids that came up was that the school district was considering adopting a new program called Mandarin Immersion, for the growing Mandarin speaking population. This was seen as a negative as they said that those Mandarin kids already speak their language at school anyways and they will only talk to other people from behind their electronic dictionaries. The boys said that if they (Mandarin people) didn’t know English, then they should not be allowed to live here. There were intonations surety in their voices as both seemed to come to an agreement on their views of a possible new program. The subject changed and they were building good feelings between each other; I could feel the warmth of their conversation as they were kindling a friendship. Meanwhile I felt hot from what I’d just heard.

Not finding a right time to interject to the two, they continued talking as the bus passed the high school I went to. Almost home, I thought, almost home.

Like the start of most friendships, they started talking about common interests. Gym class came up as one complained about doing a Military week at his school where they trained like soldiers. Today they had to crawl through the grass after each time they ran around the track. He liked his teacher. His name sounded familiar, but being in my own thoughts I wasn’t sure I heard properly. As chance had it, the other had this teacher before and that’s when I caught it, “Yeah, I really like him, too. Mr. Le’s my favourite teacher.”

In Grade 7, our teacher hurt her knee rollerblading over the weekend when at a teacher development day, doing a team building exercise. As a result, we were given a substitute teacher. In Science, we were in the middle of studying tectonic plates and the geological events that happen because of them: earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Our main assignment for Science was to make a storybook of how natural disasters affect cities.

My substitute teacher’s name was Mr. Le. He grew up in Vancouver and was Chinese like me.

Testing my identity and my newly deepened voice, I chose to make a panel about a tsunami off the shores of a West Coast city called Hongcouver, nation capital of Japanada. I thought it was hilarious. I was confident in my choice and the laughter and recognition I would get from my peers.

Mr. Le didn’t think it was so funny. He said those terms were derogatory. He took obvious offense to it.

I was confused, I’d really liked Mr. Le. I thought out of all the times we’d laughed in class, that this joke he would get.

Racism does not commonly manifest itself as overt discrimination in Canada these days. It is internalized, subtle and often invisible. Racism hovers around the fuzzy border of a private joke between friends and the misunderstanding and ignorance of well-intentioned colleagues or acquaintances. It is systemic and personal. But even though it is not always identifiable, it is no less real. Our challenge is to remember that it exists, and to act when we see it happen, by speaking up when we hear someone say something racist because we take offense to what they said, not who they are. Racism exists and the danger is when we pretend to be small and shrink from it, letting it go unseen and unheard.