Urban Road Stories: Vancouver
CBC TV's The National explores stories of real people in Vancouver BC, Canada's most culturally integrated city.
Peter Mansbridge with Todd Wong following the live broadcast and taping of The National, for Urban Road Stories.
Being selected for a story on The National was a great surprise and opportunity to share a positive story about race-relations. Gung Haggis Fat Choyä is an event and a concept that gets picked up as a media story because it is fun and light. It is a feel-good story about multiculturalism. But underneath it are all the historical racist underpinnings, without which Gung Haggis Fat Choyä would not have been created for.
While it is “cute” that we can say so many Canadians of Scottish and Chinese descent are getting married and having “beautiful” Chinese-Scottish-Canadian babies (as many of my friends and cousins have), life wasn't always easy between the Scots and Chinese pioneers in Canada.
We could talk about the Head Tax imposed on Chinese immigrants, the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed by then Prime Minister Mackenzie King, which the United Nations is urging Canada to repay. A Scottish Nanny Janet Smith is murdered and a Chinese servant Wong Foon Sing is accused. Racist comments against the Chinese abound throughout BC and Canadian history.
Early pioneer life in Canada was dominated by Scots. Indeed a book has even been written titled How the Scots Invented Canada. Parts of Canada have been named after Scotland including the province of Nova Scotia and a pionner settlement in BC named New Caledonia. This did not make it easy for the Chinese who started arriving en masse in 1858, following the California Gold Rush. Senator Vivian Poy outlines the harsh story of Chinese Canadians in a speech in the Canadian Senate.
But the fact remains that after a generation or two or more… we are all Canadians. Many immigrants start calling themselves Canadians within a few years… and you know… it's okay with us. Okay… so the Asian immigrants still stick out, some Scots will never lose their soft burr, and even though I am 5th generation Canadian (and a 5th generation Vancouverite to boot!), I will still occasionally get asked where did I come from, and then “I mean where did your parents come from.” Vancouver, Vancouver, Vancouver!!!
But no matter where we go in the world, we can feel at home meeting other Canadians – no matter what their colour or racial ethnicity. We can all talk about hockey, the CBC, beavers, maple syrup, Tim Hortons, The Beachcombers, sing O Canada and hum “Hockey Night in Canada.”
We as Canadians, need to be more proactive against racism. When a Filipino Youth are killed on Toronto and Vancouver streets in 2003 and 2004, when Richmond City council needs to examine English Only signs to offset upsetting tourists, when a National Film Board Film, When Hockey Came to Belfast, can help ease religious tensions.
We know that as Canadians, we can help make this world a safer place to live in. We, as Canadians, really know the true meaning of a kinder gentler nation (not declaring war on other nations – covert or otherwise). We are a peace loving people, who believe in inclusivity, peace, order and good government, and hopefully setting a postive example that other nations can aspire to. Isn't that why people come to Canada, to become Canadians? And I hope that we can do something as simple as inviting a person from another culture, another colour, home for dinner.
This is what Gung Haggis Fat Choyä is simply about. The joy and cameraderie of a Robbie Burns Supper. To sing songs, recite poetry, and have a good story and joke with friends old and new. Does it matter if the bagpiper is Chinese, or the drummer is South Asian? Does it matter if the poet is 1/4 Chinese, 1/4 Scots, 1/4 Irish and 1/4 Swedish? Does it matter if there is haggis in the won ton, or sweet and sour sauce, laced with Drambuie to dip it in?
If there truly was a Scots and a Chinese person in every family, could we then say that Head Tax redress affects every Canadian equally? If Peter Mansbridge marries my sister, then would he be part of the many families across Canada affected by the unconstitutional and discriminatory law that the United Nations is asking Canada to make reparations for.” This is hypothetical, I don't have a sister – but it demonstrates that head tax and racial discrimination is not restricted to the affected ethnic or cultural groups. As filmaker Karen Cho, director of the NFB film, “In the Shadow of Gold Mountain,” found out in her own British-Chinese -Canadian Family – the Brits side has been more outraged out the lack of redress for the headtax. It is a Canadian issue that all Canadians must share to end. I close below with quotes from men of Scots descent: MacInnes, Sir John A. MacDonald in on the subject of Chinese occupation in BC and Canad and to end with the imortal wisdom of Robert Burns.
Thanks for having me on the show Peter. Congratulations on the Gemini Award for Best Newscaster!
“The Chinese are foreigners. If they come to this country, after three years' residence, they may, if they choose, be naturalized. But still we know that when the Chinaman comes here he intends to return to his own country; he does not bring his family with him; he is a stranger, a sojourner in a strange land, for his own purposes for a while; he has no common interest with us, and while he gives us his labor and is paid for it, and is valuable, the same as a threshing machine or any other agricultural implement which we may borrow from the United States on hire and return it to the owner on the south side of the line; a Chinaman gives us his labor and gets money, but that money does not fructify in Canada; and if he cannot, his executors or his friends send his body back to the flowery land. But he has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations, and therefore ought not to have a vote.”– John A. Macdonald, 1885.
“It may be very right indeed to separate a man by law from his wife and family if he belongs to a race whose increase in the country would be disastrous to those already in occupation of it; especially if such intruding race be very prolific and very difficult to assimilate; and by reason of a more meagre standard of living capable of undoing the masses of those to whom such a country belongs. But aside from all that, the Chinese cannot rightly be said to be separated by any Canadian law from their wives and children in China. They are free to go back to their wives and children any time, and God speed them!” MacInnes, Oriental occupation of British Columbia, p.12,13
A Man's A Man For A' That
Is there for honest poverty
That hangs his head, an' a' that
The coward slave, we pass him by
We dare be poor for a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
Our toil's obscure and a' that
The rank is but the guinea's stamp
The man's the gowd for a' that
What though on hamely fare we dine
Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine
A man's a man, for a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
Their tinsel show an' a' that
The honest man, though e'er sae poor
Is king o' men for a' that
Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord
Wha struts an' stares an' a' that
Tho' hundreds worship at his word
He's but a coof for a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
His ribband, star and a' that
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that
A prince can mak' a belted knight
A marquise, duke, an' a' that
But an honest man's aboon his might
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that
For a' that an' a' that
Their dignities an' a' that
The pith o' sense an' pride o' worth
Are higher rank that a' that
Then let us pray that come it may
(as come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that
For a' that an' a' that
It's coming yet for a' that
That man to man, the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that
– Robbie Burns 1759