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.

Oprah (and stuff)

Yesterday I had the second day of training for becoming a board member at SFPIRG (the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group), which is the social justice resource centre on campus in Burnaby, BC/Coast Salish Territories. Aside from the incredible connections I’ve formed with my fellow board and staff, I have taken away some valuable insights that are only beginning to surface as a result of my reflection on the workshops, training and discussions (formal and informal).

One particular element that stuck with me was when we did an icebreaker activity. We all had identical sheets of paper with several questions about us: What’s your favourite food? What’s on your bucket list? What’s something nobody would know right away by meeting you?

Of course, I answered that dan tat (Chinese egg tart) is my favourite food, I would love to meet Oprah before I die, and something no one would immediately know about me is that I love Oprah… And then, unexpectedly, we got into a discussion about Oprah. My fellow SFPIRGies were amazed that I of all people was an Oprah fan (which is understandable because I’m visibly a Chinese man), but also that there are some other social justice issues that they have in contention with Oprah and what she represents. It’s true that she represents American idealism – especially the so-called “American dream” – and that she provides entertainment to the sort of audience that follows celebrity life, commercialism, etc. but I was struck at how particularly significant it was to my colleagues and friends that she represents American-ism. And by that I mean the perspective of the USA as the centre of the world. This wasn’t new to me – and knowing this I still love Oprah – but this sharing revealed to me how much of my own perspective centres around American news, happenings, festivals, culture and values. As a Canadian, it’s easy to point or wag a finger at the influence of the America as a political and social entity – but we’re not much that different.

And yet that’s how I feel…different.

I don’t necessarily see my love for Oprah as a downside of Americanization. As a Chinese person growing up in Vancouver (or “ham sui fa” aka “salt water city”), I relate to many blogs that speak about the Asian-American experience as my own Asian-Canadian experience. I openly identify with Los Angeles and the West Coast of Canada/USA because of the ethnically-Asian population and culture. You see, when my family came over from the old country (Sze-yap and Joong Sahn), they encountered struggles that immigrants of all kinds face: racist laws, explicit daily discrimination, separation from family for decades, etc. But what I believe makes my and my family’s situation different is that we’re part of the Chinese world. And the Chinese world in this day and age – place and time – is one where an ancestral language (like Toisan-wa or Joong Sahn Wa…also known as country Cantonese) spans the globe in a shape different from the traditional maps we’re used to seeing. It is the star map of satellite city constellations consisting of Chinatowns and restaurant districts. I’m sure many people of other languages can relate to how the world changes for them such as the Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and African worlds. There is some sort of connection of place that is constant in time; language is a universal, living capsule.

So in modern day Canada, I feel like my following of “American” culture (Asian-American blogs and Oprah) is not so much a product of capitalism and media imperialism, but a by-product of a pilgrimage to my cultural ancestry as it lives and grows today. Whatever I do will be called “Chinese.” My world centers around American culture because it is connected to Asian culture. I am a country boy in an urban land, an immigrant whose home is LA as much as Vancouver, or Hou Choung.

Reference and inspiration for this post: A New Year.

Chinese (and proud)

I like to come on here with coherent, well-gesticulated thoughts but lately I’ve only had a random fiery, angry passion in the pit of my gut. I’m frustrated that we can’t seem to get it right. So many people are still unconscious when it comes to race and it really gets to me: yes, I get mad about stuff white people do, but I also am particularly fed up with the way that I’m ostracized by people of my own race. Racism isn’t for any specific race but the human race.

Last week during a basketball game a school friend had been telling me about his trip to Asia and how wonderful it was – except for the benefits of home (clean air, drinkable water, etc.) – and how I should really go there to see what it’s like. I gathered the intent was well-meaning, but I couldn’t get around the fact that I was being spoken to as if I was a complete ignoramus about the “old country.” My great grandparents on BOTH sides of my family came to Canada and America to start a better life. This was not without the obvious consequences of likely losing future generations to their home culture and language but there were also blatant systemic barriers that they faced. Racist Canadian laws like the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 separated my family for years as well as other Asian families. The state never even gave us the vote until 1947 (let alone Aboriginal peoples ). And so while I’m being told about a trip as if I’m unjustifiably ignorant – that is, if only I had been a “good” Chinese, I would somehow retain and know all of this – I’m thinking about how my opportunities were cut short long before I was even an intention of my parents. I wasn’t given the chance by the white government of Canada. And condemning about me is also racist because that’s excluding me from a category I’ll always be in.

Whatever I do, I’ll always be Chinese. And instead of feeling guilty about having learned to be extremely proficient in the English language or having an appreciation for my local ecology, I’m standing strong in my identity. So I’m gonna be the best damn poet I can be and sing the worst songs I can try. Asians can be good at basketball and bad at math. We can love cell phones and anime and white bread. We can dance the tango and break it down like any other. We can be peaceful and zen and outright angry. We can be ignorant and racist and we can be members of the Black Panthers. We can be feminists, writers, cooks, chefs, fashion designers, construction workers, secretaries, teachers, and filmmakers.

No matter what I do I’ll be Chinese. And Proud.