Leslie Yip

The Chinese Head Tax was a major financial burden for my family and many other Chinese families alike. It was implemented immediately after the Canadian Pacific Railway construction was completed in which they were paid one-third to one-half of what white co-workers were paid. The racism of the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act prevented the Chinese from bringing their families over and eventually ended all Chinese immigration to Canada for a certain amount of time.

My great-great-great-grandfather was one of the first people from my father’s side to immigrate to Canada. He would have worked on the railway. He was buried in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. The Head Tax was very expensive at that time, costing $500 per person. Because of this, and also the Chinese Exclusion Act, he was unable to bring all of his family members over to Canada and this resulted in a broken family.

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to Canada on June 22, 1922, as shown on his documents. He was 13 years old when he arrived. His papers were issued more than a year later and he had to carry this paper as his identification.

Later on, my father and great-grandmother immigrated to Canada sponsored by his grandfather when my father was just 11 years old. My great-grandfather worked as a cook. Then he managed a rooming house. They still burned coal for heat. He earned pennies a day and worked long gruelling hours.
When my father moved to Canada in 1969, discrimination was overt; he was beaten up by the white boys in school, had rocks thrown at him after school, and was chased while they called him “Chink”, resulting in his having to learn to defend himself. Discrimination was more rampant in earlier years when the Chinese Exclusion Act was in place and my great-great-grandfather was not allowed to bring his family over to Canada (other races did not even have a Head Tax, not to mention an Exclusion Act). The challenges that my family faced when moving to Canada included finding a way to pay for the Head Tax, to cope with the extreme racism and discrimination, to survive slave-like working conditions.

The Chinese Canadian community has changed drastically over the decades in that the Chinese have become more prominent. Many generations experienced extreme poverty and learned to be more cautious about spending money and to be more frugal in order to have shelter and be able to live a decent life.
Today, the global Chinese population is significant and this is also reflected in Canada’s urban areas. In British Columbia, businesses try to appeal to Chinese Canadian consumers and various Asian-themed buildings such as the Crystal Mall, and business areas have formed.
What I have learned that relates to the Chinese Head Tax is that you need to suppress your anger in the short-term in order to get where you want to be in the long-term, stick together, because a group of people is stronger than a single person, no matter how strong that person is, and recognize that not everyone is treated equally, there will always be some form of discrimination toward a certain race or religion, or at least some sort of favouritism.

There is still discrimination today in Canada, however it is less overt and is frowned upon by modern day society. For example, in Vancouver City Hall, where my mother works, there was once a bylaw that prevented people from hiring someone who was not Caucasian. This was discovered and repealed. The first Chinese person who was hired at City Hall retired less than 10 years ago. There are also laws established to abolish hate crimes. There have also been efforts toward the elimination of discrimination on race, sex, sexual orientation, mental and physical disabilities as well as promoting the rights of all people. These efforts seek to accomplish an overall positive change in the attitude, to educate people to stop discriminating against others and to encourage people to treat each other equally and with respect. These initiatives make us stronger as human beings. Hopefully we can eliminate discrimination in all of its forms.

Below is a picture of my father when he was a boy immigrating to Canada in 1969.

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