Samantha Jade Gee Hamilton

3 generations at Head Tax Apology – Samantha, Sam, Linda

Proud to be Chinese

When people look at me, they see almond shaped eyes, dark hair, full lips but they are unsure of my background. When asked, I proudly say that I am 50% Chinese and 50% Scottish-a great combination.

I am 100% proud to be of Chinese descent. My mom is first generation Chinese Canadian. My grandparents were born in China. I call them Gohng-Gohng and Pawh-Pawh. I have learned so much from my grandparents. They too are proud to be Chinese. I love listening to their stories about the olden days. I would sit and listen in awe as they tell stories about how they came to Canada on a “slow-boat” from China; how they were discriminated against; how they stood tall and continued to work hard so that they could raise their family and make an honest living. I have so much respect for my Gohng-Gohng and Pawh-Pawh.

Visiting village in China with Grandparents

We are so fortunate to be living in Canada with unlimited opportunities and freedoms. But this did not come without a cost. The impact of the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act affected my family for two generations. It impacted my grandparents’ and my great-grandparents’ generation. The “tax” charged only Chinese immigrants up to $500 to enter Canada and the “Act” that excluded the Chinese from immigrating to Canada between 1923 to 1947.

Because of the Chinese Head Tax, my great-grandfathers each had to pay $500 to enter Canada back in 1913 and 1921. This amount was equivalent to 2 years salary for a white worker. They had to borrow this exorbitant amount of money from friends and family. Can you imagine the pressure on them to earn a living in Canada in order to support their families back in China? And the number of hours they had to work in order to pay back this excessive debt? Not only were they carrying this heavy burden, but they were separated from their families and living in a country where they did not know the language. They were treated as second-class citizens. By 1924, great-grandfather had made his way to the Prairies. He worked in Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan. He worked hard in order to send money back to China. But he was lonely for his family.

My Gohng-Gohng and Pawh-Pawh never grew up with their dads. I can’t imagine not seeing my dad every day. Saying good morning to him; having dinner with him; playing sports and games with him; and saying good night before I lay my head down. Even if my great-grandfathers made enough money, they still could not reunite with their family in Canada. This was because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Because of this legislation, my grandfather was a full-grown man by the time he was able to reunite with his father, a total stranger to him in Canada by then. My grandmother was of marriageable age by the time she was reunited with her father. Essentially, they missed out on being a family.

This blatant discrimination implemented by the Canadian Government was appalling. It is an embarrassment and makes me very angry. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology to the Chinese Canadian community for this discrimination. I was there to hear the apology. I sat in the gallery with Gohng-Gohng and my mother. We were three generations there to hear the long awaited apology and redress announcement. I watched my grandfather’s face as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was making the apology. This apology was a little too late. And the redress was again another form of discrimination. I could see the disappointment and hurt in my grandfather’s face. He had waited all these years to hear this apology and it was a disappointment. Prime Minister Stephen Harper just wanted people to vote for him. The Government was not prepared to right the wrongs imposed on the Chinese. For 38 years, the Chinese paid hard-earned money to enter Canada and then endured family separation. All head tax families should receive this money back; not just an apology. Do you think the Canadian Government would have accepted a “symbolic” payment back in 1913 and 1921 when my great-grandfathers were entering Canada? I don’t think so. Gohng-Gohng was a member of the Redress Committee working towards a fair repayment for the Chinese Head Tax. I hope my grandfather lives long enough to see this happen.

Once the Exclusion Act was abolished, our families were finally reunited. My Gohng-Gohng and Pawh-Pawh were married in Canada. They worked together to build their business and build their family. They had seven children and owned a successful grocery store. They built their business with no money-just a dream and a prayer, and each other.

Samantha with Grandpa Sam

Starting a new business in Canada back then was not easy. They could not speak English. They had no business contacts. Living in Canada was certainly an up-hill battle, but they persevered. They practiced their English on their customers. They were kind and considerate to customers and were well liked and respected within the community. They continued to be good role models for their family. My grandparents taught their children that education and reputation are two very important ingredients to becoming successful.

When I hear Gohng-Gohng and Pawh-Pawh tell these stories, I shake my head and wonder how they became such smart, strong, and insightful people. They struggled, they stumbled, but they had a dream for their family, and they were going to achieve it.

Because of their sacrifices, my generation does not have to worry about the level of discrimination past generations faced. Canada is a “melting pot” of different cultures. My high school was multicultural. I feel that people that are more exposed to multiculturalism are in general more accepting of differences. I hope that with each future generation, acceptance becomes stronger and stronger.

It is important for my generation and future generations to stay connected with past generations-those who made sacrifices and endured the hardships in order for us to have the life and opportunities that we have, and the opportunity to fulfill our dreams.

Proud to be Chinese.

Picking in Edmonton for Head Tax apology

Love to dress in Chinese Clothes

2009 Samantha, Lindsay, Matthew with Grandparents playing Mah Jong


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