It's Sunday Afternoon, 4:30 pm. The Grey Cup game is playing
and the BC Lions are losing. I am at the Firehall Arts Centre for
the 2nd showing of In the Shadow of Gold Mountain,
Film maker Karen Cho, is in town for the Vancouver premiere of her
NFB documentary. Victoria was the day before yesterday.
Calgary is tomorrow. Winnipeg is next. Her tour is also
being hosted by Chinese Canadian National Council, providing her with support and contacts in each city she visits.
This is Karen Cho's film about head tax redress and the
survivors. The film opens with scenes of many Canadians
celebrating Canada Day. Narrator/director Karen Cho explains that
July 1st, wasn't always a happy day of celebration for all
Canadians. In fact, for Chinese Canadians, it was known as a Day
of Humiliation. Because it was July 1st, 1923, that the “Chinese
Exclusion Act” came into being.
Karen explains that she came to learn that while her British
grandparents were enthusiastically welcomed to Canada, her Chinese
grandparents faced unparalleled racial discrimination, having to pay a
$500 head tax while other immigrants were given free land. This
movie is Karen's personal journey in meeting the remaining known
survivors who paid the head tax and their widows and children.
It is a moving film, with interviews by Roy Mah and Gim Wong, who
are both veterans of the Canadian Army and Air Force. They are
Canadians of Chinese descent who went to fight for Canada in WW II,
despite being disallowed from voting and being treated as less than 2nd
class citizens in the land of their birth.
Highlights of the movie include Gim Wong riding his motorcycle on a
campaign to bring attention to head tax redress, and displaying a well
known beer advertisment sign that has been re-organized to say AM I CANADIAN
Another highlight is the same saucy Gim Wong recalling a tearful
childhood memory of being chased by older white boys as a child and
The movie's conclusion recieves a healthy and warm applause.
Moderator Mary Woo Sims acknowledges special guests in the audience:
veteran Gim Wong, former MP Margaret Mitchell and current Vancouver
city councillor Ellen Woodsworth.
Next she invites Karen Wong to the front to answer questions from
the audience. My question to Karen is: How do your British side
family feel about the head tax and discrimination, and have they signed
up for the head tax redress?
Karen says that in many ways, her non-Chinese family members are
more angry about the discriminatory head tax because it flies in the
face of what they know and consider to be a “fair” Canada. She
says that many of her family members on both sides support the redress.
Following the Q&A, I join the organizers of the event, my
friends Sid Tan, Eric Chan, Elwin Yuen, Sean Gunn, Fanna, as they take
Karen out for dinner. The plan is to interview Karen for Saltwater City TV, a weekly show on Shaw cable.
Dinner is at Congee House on Broadway. Somehow, I am blessed
with a seat beside Karen, our honoured guest. She is wise beyond
her 25 years, and both enthusiastic and charming. Upon our
introductions, she exclaims “So you're the one!” when Gung Haggis
Fat Choy comes up. Karen loves the concept of GHFC, and I quickly
suggest that she could start a dinner in her native Montreal.
I quickly discover Karen Cho is 5th generation Canadian like myself,
and that all her cousins have married non-Chinese. Her family is
a veritable United Nations including British, French, Japanese,
Iranian, African. Karen really “gets” the concepts behind Gung
Haggis Fat Choy. Our rapport is instant, and it is like meeting