i don't know how my ancestors walked to canada over the miles of roads meant for travel faster than foot: wagon paths of stone and mud with 10 chickens on their back, there's a reason there are a billion bicycles in China, great great grandfather must have had to file and sand his own knees to bend them into perfect circles. how else could these roads be traversed? meanwhile great great grandmother must have died of worry -- the worst sickness unknown to the family because telegraphs didn't span the pacific ocean. and paper was expensive. those chickens weren't yet money to buy rice, and they were too skinny for eggs, not that we could eat shells, anyway. but maybe we'll try. did i forget? how did he get to hong kong? kowloon? always the outer skirt of lady britain's domain, never quite city familiar. right, because money's hard to spend, when its locked in the white banker's savings. i hear that the bridge lies beneath the waters, foundations in ruins. and someday i'll walk it and meet grandma on the other side.
i'll never give up my history to assimilate into a culture that has forgotten its name a culture whose web of ancestry.com videos tries to sell back family history that was lost because it was more convenient not to have to carry ID. the stories of my people involve telling white people with white tongues how to fill out white papers. a white stamp on our head tax certificate: a white lie. the least wanted: the most documented and white i white my story, 50, 100, 150 years later white letters turn brown in well-whited archives listed addresses in the white pages never white delivered to village homes in red china. still,lost grandfather's secrets murmur beneath white blankets on gold mountain, under a fresh layer of white noise.
This poem was inspired by the ACCESS community television broadcast series Uncovering Gold, which discusses Chinese-Canadian migration through a multimedia format. Part 1 can be found here: http://youtu.be/eP5dakbuXG8.
i am already starting )beginning to forget.. those houses built and raised by families children mothers below age growing side by side in rows in villages in a billion person economy a pocket of home here in the new land we are the friendly neighbours who-moved-away-neighbours and 'never returned' neighbours the best friend whom you shared your first kiss living always in the past- a memory a treasury... they tried to remove you, erase you, tell you that you don't belong put you in another town another pocket, put an ocean between you and called it separation 'immigration' 'integration' it was humiliation> but in my heart of hearts i know that we are connected by a bridge a melted ice land under sea, and all i need is a paper boat.
I wrote this poem today called “paper boat” but in private, I think is more fittingly called “our story.” In it, I’ve tried to tell the story of my family from the reaches of my own perspective which are limited to my knowledge and experiences and position in the family tree. I draw upon childhood images of the “first generation” as it may have been in Seck-Hee as well as how it was for the “first and a half generation” and “second generation” growing up in Canada:
Making paper boats with Grandma.
The mind is such a fickle thing. It is completely certain that, only when it has already made itself up, it knows everything. Then nothing at all.
I’ve come on here more often in the past week than probably an entire month of last year. Maybe that’s an exaggeration – but I’m too forgetful and too bothered to go back and verify that statistic. You see, I’m starting to distrust numbers, or at least how they’ve been used in today’s terms, and the illusion of confidence they instill in us. Instead of accepting facts as absolutes I’m reclaiming my natural inclination towards the absurdity of life and my mistrust of authority. Never let the rebel in you die.
Numbers are only a story. As I’ve read in Trauma Farm, probably the best novel I’ve ever read – and I don’t think “novel” is the accurate word – in a long time. It’s an 18-year personal history of small farming and rural life on the Canadian West Coast told in the format of one day, reaching equally into the past and future. It starts in darkness and ends in darkness. As much as I could gush about it to you on here, I’m so enamoured with the words, stories, and absurd personal history of author Brian Brett that I’m reading it again, which will probably benefit us all the greater. I just finished it in December, but I am so drawn to the dense web of fact and fiction that make for a beautiful stone in this West Coast (Brett grew up here in Vancouver and lives on Saltspring Island) that I’ve got to finger through this jewel again.
I don’t know if I’ll walk out of here a poet or a farmer, but I can assure you I’ll walk out of here a better writer and proselytizer of this beautiful homeland.
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.