Georgia Straight: Roy Mah strove to transend race

Here's a lovely article in the Georgia Straight about Roy Mah
There is also a companion piece What do you remember about Roy Mah? in which I am asked along with George Chow, Wesley Lowe, and Tung Chan.


Mah strove to transcend race

By Carlito Pablo
As a journalist, soldier, and organizer, Roy Mah (here with his niece Ramona Mar) fought for equality. Daryl Kahn Cline photo.

As a journalist, soldier, and organizer, Roy Mah (here with his niece Ramona Mar) fought for equality. Daryl Kahn Cline photo.

For
many years, Roy Mah was the face of Chinese journalism in Vancouver.
The long-time publisher of the Chinatown News was also a pivotal figure
in many of the equal-rights struggles fought by Chinese Canadians.

For
the past six decades, people of Chinese ancestry have enjoyed the right
to vote as Canadian citizens. They're free to pursue their dreams in
the various professions. And they owe no small thanks to Mah, who died
at age 95 on June 22.

The head tax on Chinese immigrants had been
in place for 33 years when Mah was born in Edmonton in 1918. He was
five when the federal government introduced a law that barred Chinese
people from entering the country. As a young boy, he attended a
segregated school.

During the Second World War, Mah and hundreds
of Chinese volunteered to fight for Canada, a country that didn't even
allow them to vote. They believed that recognition would come later.
Two years after the war, in 1947, the Chinese were finally granted the
franchise.

“He was very proud of where the Chinese Canadian
community is at today,” Mah's niece Ramona Mar told the Georgia
Straight. “He looks around and they're everywhere in all professions,
and these are professions that used to be barred to him during his
time.”

Mar,
a former CBC journalist, interviewed her uncle for a documentary
project for Veterans Affairs Canada. “I know that we can't have
everything we want in life, but we can always strive to achieve our
objective,” Mah said in that interview. “So I always want to fight for
a cause, especially for a just cause. Fight for civil liberty, fight
for equal rights, fight for a fairer society. It has become reality
now, you know, it's just a matter of daily life.”

Mah was also a
labour organizer. According to a profile drawn by the B.C. Federation
of Labour, he organized thousands of Chinese workers in Vancouver, from
the Fraser River to Hope, and throughout communities on Vancouver
Island. The same account noted that Mah was also the editor of the
Chinese version of the BC Lumber Worker, then the only Chinese-language
labour paper in North America.

In the early 1950s, Mah started
the Chinatown News, Canada's first English-language newsmagazine for
the Chinese community. Howe Lee, president of the Chinese Canadian
Military Museum Society, recalled to the Straight that the publication
was known as much for its coverage of society events as for Mah's
editorials and for the feature stories he ran about social issues such
as the need to end discrimination.

Mah edited and published the
paper until the mid-1990s. In 2002, the Asian Canadian Writers'
Workshop presented him with its inaugural Community Builder Award. In
his acceptance speech, Mah insisted that Asian Canadian writers can
compete with anyone because they're now “free from the racist barriers
imposed on earlier generations”.

Cultural activist Todd Wong was
among the writers who listened to Mah's speech. “At that dinner…he said
it would be wonderful if we were just known as the Canadian Writers'
Workshop,” Wong told the Straight. “It means that we should be able to
transcend race and ethnicity and all be recognized as oneness.”

Head-tax
activist Sid Tan was also present at that event. He has been an
advocate of compensation for all victims of the head-tax policy, a
position not shared by Mah, who had argued that government apology was
sufficient.

“I just wonder what life would have been like if Roy
Mah had joined me and said, 'We want a just and honourable redress for
all head-tax families',” Tan told the Straight. “It wouldn't have been
as much work as it is now. He has a lot of influence within the
community.”

A public memorial will be held for Mah on July 12 at the Chinese Cultural Centre.

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