Sophia Yip and Vivian Yip

Meaningful Redress by Sophia Yip

My great-grandfather, Yip See Tim, was born in Taishan, Guangdong China on October 7, 1907. During that era, China was a war-torn land with political instability. Seeking new opportunities, my great-grandfather immigrated to Canada on June 24, 1922. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 forced the Chinese to pay a $50 Head Tax to enter Canada. By 1922, the Head Tax had been raised to $500. This tax proved to be a crippling burden as my great-grandfather worked tirelessly as a chef for less than $300 a year.

The Chinese Canadian community had changed a lot over the decades. Although racism and discrimination still surrounds us, we are now more connected and able to face our challenges as a single rather than scattered unit. Organizations such as the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) continue to fight for equality and full participation. Together, our community can stand united to right the wrongs done to our family members who were subjected to severe racism in earlier years. Our common experience will help to drive the ongoing efforts to seek equality and justice.

Although my peers and I were born some decades after the peak periods of overt racism in Canada, we still do not see ourselves as true Canadians. Historical tragedies, such as the Chinese
Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act, remind us that we were once treated as unwanted foreigners. Through years of perseverance and resistance, we have earned our rightful place in Canada. We feel a strong connection to newcomers to Canada, perhaps because we can understand the struggles they face. Even though the Head Tax no longer exists, it is still common for Chinese workers to work for below minimum wage. Many families make sacrifices and give up everything to come to Canada seeking the same ne opportunities that my great-grandfather sought. We know that success is not achieved without hard work and sacrifice. The Chinese Canadian community has built networks of mutual support, both social and financial. We help newcomers because our families have received help and we hope that in turn, they will help future generations of immigrants who will face similar obstacles.

Although Canada had changed over the decades, racism and discrimination has not completely gone away. While such discrimination is far less obvious, Chinese Canadians still experience systemic racism for example in employment where qualified candidates are passed over for hiring or promotion. While the situation is improving and we have certainly come a long way since the 1900s, there is a lot more time work required to eliminate discrimination.

While Canada claims to be a cultural mosaic, racism and discrimination still plagues this ideal. At school, students hang out in ethnic cliques and teasing is still more common than efforts at mutual understanding and respect.

The future is built upon the actions of today. Likewise, the present is a direct result of our past actions. Past injustices have an undeniable impact on social relationships today. The experience of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act teaches us what can happen when discrimination is accepted, supported an even promoted by the government. It teaches us that later generations also continue to experience the impact in everyday life and that it can become deeply woven into our interactions with one another. It serves as a foundation for inequality corrupting our sense of justice. It blinds us from right and wrong – like a child believing shoplifting is acceptable when the father is a thief. The Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act was an effort to keep Canada white and worked at cross-purposes to the harmonious multicultural mosaic we strive to become today. While the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act are no longer in effect, our governments should not ignore the call for inclusive redress. To truly right this wrong, the government must not only apologize, but show that their apology is more than just publicity. They must put actions behind their words and teach our present generation that righting a wrong requires sincerity and a strong commitment to fair redress.

Inclusive redress of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act is a start. There were only approximately 785 living head tax payers and surviving spouses who were eligible to receive the direct financial redress in 2006. My great-grandfather passed away on February 25, 1976, some 30 years before a Canadian government was willing to apologize. For the government’s apology to be truly meaningful, the government needs extend the financial redress to all head tax families including those where the Head Tax payer and spouse have passed away. It is less meaningful to limit redress to the few hundred survivors and to ignore everyone else. Canada still needs to prove its identity as a harmonious multicultural mosaic and we should start by repairing relationships with the groups that we have abused in the past.

Tai Gong by Vivian Yip

My Tai Gong (great-grandfather) came to Canada in 1922. His name was Yip See Tim and he was born in Taishan, Guangdong China. He wanted to escape the wars in China and he came to Canada when he was only 15 years old. People told him that Canada was a peaceful place and there were more opportunities, so he decided to come and work. Unfortunately, the Chinese were treated very poorly in Canada. When he entered Canada, my Tai Gong had to pay the five hundred dollar Head Tax, a poll-tax that only Chinese people had to pay at that time. He worked as a chef and earned $300 a year, so the Head Tax was quite onerous and gave him a lot of trouble when he first came. Tai Gong was treated very poorly, just like his other Chinese friends, and life was difficult. He had to work very hard and he was paid very little. The Chinese were treated unfairly, and in some ways, there is still unfair treatment today.

The Chinese Canadian community has changed a lot since my Tai Gong came. Many of
us were actually born in Canada or raised here from a young age. We do not know a lot about the hard times before and the racism is not as overt. But my parents always tell me that things were not always good. I know that my Tai Gong suffered a lot and sacrificed a lot to give us the good life that we have today. This is why I support meaningful redress for the Head Tax payers’ families. I believe that his sacrifices were for us, and even though he is not alive now to accept it, his spirit would be happy to know that the world has changed. If brave Chinese like him did not work hard through many years to stand up to inequality, maybe we would still be suffering today.

Even though many Chinese kids my age were born in Canada, we still hang out in our
own groups at school. I know this is not natural because we were never divided by race in elementary school. When we were younger, everyone would play together and get along together. It is like as we grow up, we are socialized to segregate within out own ethnic group. While I believe that people do not naturally discriminate, we are taught to discriminate as we grow up. I believe that the government can set an example for us and send a message that they do not believe in racism. Not just by saying sorry but by showing everyone that they really mean it.

We are always taught that bullying is bad, but it sounds like the government was bullying the Chinese at one time. How can kids accept that bullying is bad when adults are bullying each other? Even when bullies are sent to the principal’s office, they have to apologize and they get detention. The government bullied the Chinese, then dragged its feet in offering an apology and did not really show that they were sorry for what they did to the head tax families. I believe that kids grow up copying adults and if adults are doing bad things, then kids will grow up to be bad people too. We should encourage the government to do the right thing. When the country’s leaders are doing the right thing, I think kids will grow up to become good adults too.

I personally feel that all people are equal. It does not matter what skin colour you have or what language you speak. I consider myself a Canadian even though my family originates from China. As a Chinese Canadian, I believe it is my job to stand up for equal treatment. Many of my friends are new to Canada and I do my best to teach them English. I do my best to help them fit in because I know fitting in must be very hard for them. I am lucky that I was born here and do not have a hard time trying to fit in. Just like my Tai Gong, people who are new to Canada find that it is a very difficult change. Some kids at school will tease the newcomers and make them feel bad. I even know a friend who did not want to attend school anymore because everyone was so mean to him. Tai Gong must have had similar experiences. Sometimes, kids will make fun of our eyes and flat faces because we look different. I know many of them are just having fun, but for many Chinese kids, this is actually hurtful. I believe this is a form of bullying and the Chinese kids never forget being teased. Then they begin to just hang out with their ethnic group. If this does not change, my Tai Gong’s wish of seeing Chinese people being treated equally will never really come true.

Even when we go shopping, I notice that some people do not like my parents’ Chinese accent. They think it is funny but they have no idea how hard it is to learn a new language. Chinese immigrants work very hard to fit in so that they can make Canada their home. I think the people in the government can set a good example for us by showing that they respect us. I know that changes sometimes take a long time to happen. It took more than 100 years to go from the Head Tax to where we are today. But I also know that change does not happen by itself. This is why we must all do our part to make a better future for everyone.

Image 1: This is an image of our great grandfather and great grandmother.


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