Jordana Lowe

Tenacity

In the years of Canada’s youth and formation, my great-grandfather was one of the many Chinese to travel across the ocean to finish building the Canadian Pacific Railway. He originated from China from a village which relied mostly on farming. After the completion of the railway that would serve to unite Canada, he was able to bring his eldest son – one of eight sons – to Canada to join him. The eldest son, my grandfather, paid the five hundred dollar Head Tax to enter the country when he was only 13 years old, leaving the rest of his family behind. The Head Tax was the deciding factor on why only one child was brought to Canada. Five hundred dollars was a king’s ransom at that time so there was only enough money to bring the eldest son.

Once settled in British Columbia, my grandfather entered school for a short period of time before deciding that he needed to work instead. He was employed in a variety of fields during his lifetime, often as a waiter and in other labor occupations. Much of the money that my grandfather and great-grandfather earned was put aside to be sent back to support family in China. On one trip back to his family’s village in China, my great-grandfather returned home bringing two railroad ties with him. To this day, one railroad tie can be seen mounted in the attic of a family house in China.

My grandparents raised four children in the small town of Port Alice on Vancouver Island, with the majority of their income coming from my grandfather’s job at the local pulp and paper mill. In Port Alice, the Chinese community faced blatant discrimination and racism, as experienced and vividly recounted by my mother who was then a young schoolgirl. The Caucasian children would taunt the Chinese and First Nation’s children as they walked to and from school with racial slurs, and often refused to come into close contact with them. My mother’s family moved to East Vancouver when she was 11 years old. In Vancouver, where there was more racial diversity and a larger, more established Chinese community, she experienced less discrimination but it still existed nonetheless.

The racism the Chinese encountered throughout their lives resulted in a tight knit community in which both of my grandparents were able to find sanctuary. As the population of Chinese expanded and the inability to integrate due to racism developed, the community became more self-sufficient enabling people such as my grandmother, and others her age, to function without fluency in English. Immigrants to Canada such as my grandparents could easily and understandably identify completely with the traditional Chinese Canadian community. First and second generation Chinese Canadians, such as my mother, are more likely to identify with the new and complex culture of a multicultural Canada. Personally, while I am attached to my Chinese roots and value many Chinese traditions and customs, I feel I identify more with my new age multicultural generation because my mother is Chinese and my father is not.

One of the most overwhelming challenges faced by new immigrants to Canada is trying to overcome the language barrier. While many communities can enable a comfortable life for immigrants without having to learn the primary spoken language, they still face disadvantages because they may need to search for work and they are sometimes unable to fully navigate the areas in which they live. While Canadians have become more tolerant of different races with time, discrimination is still present in many places.

Throughout my lifetime, I have thankfully experienced very little racial discrimination directed at me. However, it is still extremely prominent and has had a lasting effect on many of my peers. As communities in Canada become more diverse, people from all different racial and cultural backgrounds can be seen in a broad spectrum of occupations. Now, with aspects of Canada’s identity coming from its Chinese and Asian communities, some Canadian-born Chinese feel as much a part of Canada as Caucasians. I feel the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act encouraged racism and was a huge factor in shaping Chinese communities today. Despite the discriminatory consequences that Chinese Canadians faced, the communities that did form as a result have become welcoming areas for new immigrants who look to maintain their culture.

I feel the most important lesson I learned from the Head Tax is the power of tenacity. The Chinese community’s perseverance to obtain redress and an apology from the government now serves as an example in challenging unjust laws, to educate others and to learn about forgiveness. Overall, I feel my family’s story is a success story in which many difficult challenges were overcome to give my generation an opportunity to experience racial equality.

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