Redress: The book by Roy Miki – addressing racial identity and its consequences

Redress: The book by Roy Miki – addressing racial identity and its consequences

It's Boxing Day morning at Kalamalka Lake, and I am not at any Boxing
Day sales in Vancouver. I am reading Roy Miki's book Redress: Inside
the Japanese Canadian redress movement. Roy is an amazing person. In
1994 I interviewed him for an article in the Simon Fraser University
student newspaper “The Peak”.

I am stunned by the atrocities and restrictions placed on the Canadians
of Japanese descent, even though I have read many accounts. I nod
knowingly when I read that Asian Canadians were “racialized” in the
1900's – particularly by the Anti-Asiastic League who wanted to create
and maintain a “white Vancouver” despite the presence of First Nations
peoples. I read about the 1907 meeting at City Hall, that erupted into
a riot in Chinatown, where stores were attacked and damaged, before the
white rioters headed to Japantown where they were repelled by a
prepared community.

This was the Vancouver where my maternal grandmother was raised,
soon after being born in 1910 in Victoria BC. This was the political
and social climate where my paternal grandfather was given a
“Chinaman's Chance” of defending a non-guilty plea for drug
trafficking, because the RCMP wanted to make an example of him as one
of Victoria's top community leaders that they could “take down.” This
was the BC, where the $500 head tax was only applied to ethnic Chinese
in an effort to keep “the Yellow Peril” away from “British” Vancouver,
where the early city fathers, provincial fathers and leaders of
Canadian Federation had emmigrated from Scotland and England, seeking a
better life…. just as the Chinese had, leaving behind a corrupt
Imperial government, famines, to come to “Gum San” – the gold mountain
of opportunity.

In the first chapeter of Redress, Roy Miki tells the story of
Tomekichi (Tomey) Homma “naturalized as a British Subject” in Canada,
who tried to have his name put on the voter's list, but was turned down
no doubt, because of the stipulation in Section 8 of the Provincial
Election Act which stated: “No Chinaman, Japanese, or Indian shall have
his name placed on the Register of Voters for any Electoral District,
or be entitled to vote in any election.”

Homma decided to challange the ruling on October 19th, 1900, but
was eventurally denied by a lengthy court case and both the BC and
Canadian governments. The Privy council at the time had stated that
“Orientals… were so inassimilable that they were incapable of
participating in the democratic process.” (Miki, p. 33-34)

The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper at the time had written
“We are relieved from the possibility of having polling booths swampd
by a horde of Orientals who are totally uniftted either by custom of
education to exercise the ballot, and whose voting would completely
demoralise politics… they have not the remotest idea of what a
democratic and representative government is, and are quite incapable of
taking part in it.” (Miki, p 28)

My great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan, was educated at the
Wesleyan Mission in Hong Kong, and arrived in Canada in 1896, following
his elder brother the Rev. Chan Sing Kai – the first Chinese ordained
in Canada. The Chinese Methodist Church helped teach the Chinese
immigrants how to speak English. A favourite story that my grandmother
tells me is that her granfather would tell his family, “We are in
Canada now – we should do things the Canadian way.” In every generation
of his 6 descendants in Canada, there have been inter-racial marriages
with Caucasians. In fact, descendants in the 6th and 7th generation are
now only 1/4 and 1/8 Chinese.

Yes, Canada has had a racist history, and yes Asians have
successfully integrated and assimilated. But is this alone a case for
redress for past wrongs? Certainly not. The case for redress is that in
the 17 years since the 1988 redress settlement there has been
tremendous healing in the Japanese Canadian community. In his final
chapter, Miki shares that in order to become fully Canadian, the
community had to forge an identity of being Japanese-Canadian through
both internment and redress.

Similarly, my grandmother's younger brother Daniel Lee, a WW2
veteran, has consistenly requested that the Canadian government
apologize for the head tax. Our family elders did not have the
privilege or franchise to vote in the country of their birth until
1947, while other families were kept apart because of the consequences
of the head tax and Chinese Exclusion Act. I am aware that as I have
grown up in Canada, I have always been racialized, as my uncles before
me who were denied jobs and university admittance. These were the real
consequences of the head tax and continued legislated and socialized
racism. Reading the accounts of the Japanese Canadians during
internment, I can only marvel at what my own ancestors endured from
arrivals in 1888 to 1947, when they were finally able to vote.

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