i wonder what my teacher felt - fellow canadian-asian male same in struggle same in name lee, eng, lui those letters of the alphabet i've learned to hate together - as i called him a chink.
When Can I Stop citing history, The Facts, the truth. And begin To Have a Conversation About race & class & religion & gender & ability Or who i sleep with.. When will the minds of today Live with the knowledge That What-EVER-we-do is a product Of our theft And murder And erasure Of Indigenous peoples That we're not the first Or only To love this land... That our benefit Is Not second cousin Twice removed Nor the parent of an aunt through marriage, But a stem cut from the root of humanity When.. When.. When ?
it is july first the day when people gather under glimmering, shimmering fireworks, candescent coalescent explosions of joy awe & childhood.. but 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 = two YEARS' salary... so grandma could eat, so auntie could learn, so great uncle would be able to come (eventually) to 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.
if we are canadian why do i see predominately white in the red white and red the flag whose leaf i am equally loyal if we are canadian why is my language so importantly first <english not french cantonese swahili or haida the tongue whose wit is equally apt if we are canadian why is my fight a war i never started november 11 the country whose freedom is equally mine if we are canadian why is my opinion on wine books blues folk denied the palate whose taste is equally refined if we are canadian why do we think that first nations (first canadians) are privileged to have health care ("status") when the last residential school closed in 1996 the late 1900s the century whose history is equally present, if we are canadian?
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.
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.