Category Archives: Canadian Identity & Heritage

Italian for a day… in Vancouver

Italian Day, Commercial Drive, June 9

Italian for a day… Italian is actually the third language I learned, while I learned to play accordion. It is the language of music.. Rossini, Puccini… and O Solo Mio. I grew up near Commercial Drive and had lots of Italian-Canadian friends, and later I even had Italian girlfriends. I played accordion for their families. I cook fettucini and linguine noodles with beef stir-fry and Chinese oyster or soy sauce. And maybe… I will organize a dragon boat team for the Italian Cultural Centre.
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These two ladies were dancers in the flash mob that took place in front of the main stage, after the speeches finished.  About 20 dancers with carnivale masks did a synchronized routine – spectacular!  One of their mothers took this picture for me.

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My friend Giulio Recchioni is the Cultural director for Il Centro: Italian Cultural Centre. OMG… I am still wearing my kilt. I had just come from the Dragon Zone Regatta, racing with the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team. I think Giuilo would be a good paddler. Maybe we can create a dragon boat team for Il Centro: Italian Cultural Centre.

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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson reads from the city proclamation to announce “Italian Day in Vancouver”

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After the speeches I chatted with Vancouver councilor Tony Tang (who wants to wear a kilt), Burnaby MLA Richard Lee, and Michael Cuccione – president of the ICC.
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Sardines on the big grill, at the PCOV – Portuguese Club of Vancouver – always a big line up here.

“One Big Hapa Family” featured on KCTS TV

Here’s a great documentary about interracial marriage and families… by my friend Jeff Chiba Stearns .
We featured a special edit at the 2011 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner – which in turn inspired the creation of the Hapa Palooza Festival in Vancouver, created by another friend Anna Ling Kaye.
 

Naomi’s Road at West Vancouver Library is great… looking forward to April 23 at Italian Cultural Centre

Erica Iris and Hiather Darnela-Kadanoga play Obasan and Naomi, in a scene when the family leaves Vancouver on a train.

I saw the production at West Vancouver Library on Friday April 19th, and we both really enjoyed it.  Sam Chung returns as Stephen. The new singers are all good. Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga plays Naomi, Erica Iris plays the 3 roles Mother, Obasan and Mitzie. Henry Chen plays Daddy, Bully, Rough Lock Bill, Trainmaster.

I saw the original production in 2005/06 five times and enjoyed it immensely.  West Vancouver Library isn’t the best place to the performance because lighting was not the best, and the performer’s faces were often in shadows.  Close to 50 people came to the library for the free performance.

The performances by all singers are strong, and the storyline is strong.  Watching the perfomers, we were amazed at both the choreography of the movement on stage, as well as how the small versatile set is used and moved to simulate so many scenes: Powell Street, Living Room, Train, Internment Camp.   There were tears in my eyes as I watched the pinnacle scene of the opera.  It makes a powerful statement against racism and bullying.

Tickets are still on sale for Tuesday’s April 23 performance.

buy tickets on-line here:

http://italianculturalcentre.ca/highlights/naomis-road/

There will be a limited number of tickets available at the door.

Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga (soprano) plays Naomi


Erica Iris (mezzo-soprano) performs as Mother, Mitzi, Obasan

Sam Chung (tenor) plays Stephen
Photographs courtesy of Vancouver Opera, and available from the Naomi’s Road press kit http://www.vancouveropera.ca/2012-13-naomisroad-presskit.html

Ricepaper Magazine launches

Come and celebrate our new Ricepaper Magazine issue at the launch party at Historic Joy Kogawa House on April 6th… featuring Aboriginal and Asian Canadian writers….

On April 6, 2013 from 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm, the Historic Joy Kogawa House is hosting our Special Double Issue Launch Party. The event will coincide with the opening reception for the Text/Textiles exhibit, featuring collections from international textile artists. The opening reception will begin at 12:00 pm and Cherry Blossom: A Textile Translation Retrospective exhibit will be available for viewing until Sunday, April 21.

It is one of the best Ricepaper issues I have seen, as a member of the ACWW board… and so pleased to host at Historic Joy Kogawa House, where I am chair of the board. My cousin Sharel Wright is one of the authors in the magazine and will be in attendance with her mother Rhonda Larrabee, Chief of Qayqayt First Nations…

http://ricepapermagazine.ca/2013/03/ricepapers-double-issue-launch-party-and-the-texttextiles-exhibit/

The launch party will also include the first of a three part public reading series:

Saturday, April 6 will introduce featured writers published in the new issue of Ricepaper magazine: Carrie Calvo, Michelle Sylliboy, Russell Wallace, Wanda John Kehewin, Elaine Woo and Jonina Kirton. The reading will be from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

Saturday, April 13 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, Joy Kogawa House will host a family reading with Jacqueline Pearce. The author of The Reunion will enthrall the audience with her story of a friendship between a Sikh girl and a Japanese Canadian during World War II.

Saturday, April 20 will showcase a group of poets from The Planet Earth Anthology, published by Leaf Press. The reading will be from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

The Silk Purse Gallery in West Vancouver is also exhibiting new artwork in Cherry Blossom: A Textile Translation. As an expression of the changing season from winter to spring, artists from Canada, USA and Japan come together to display the range of inspiring art on silks, sculptures, books and clothing. Opening reception is on Tuesday, April 2 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, and the exhibit is open until April 21.

 

125 Places That Matter in Vancouver, includes Hastings Park Livestock building that housed detained Japanese-Canadians during WW2

Vancouver Heritage Foundation had a ceremony on Dec 1 to recognize the Livestock Building at Hastings Park, an important part of Japanese Canadian Internment History, as one of Vancouver’s Places that Matter.
At 1pm, everybody met in the Hastings Room, and MC Lorene Oikawa, told people the order of events.  We would do a walk to the Livestock Building for an unveiling, followed by a walk to Momoji Gardens for a Parks Canada unveiling.  Finally we would return to the Hastings Room for formal speeches, personal stories, and presentations in appreciation.
Marta Farevaag, Chair of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, watches as Mary Kitagawa steps back from unveiling the plaque for the Livestock Building at Hastings Park.
Mary had recently pushed for the University of British Columbia to recognize the Japanese Canadian students that were not allowed to finish their degrees at UBC because they were interned during WW2.  It was an emotional ceremony when 76 students were honoured with degrees at a special tribute 70 years later.  http://japanese-canadian-student-tribute.ubc.ca/
Watch this video of Mary Kitagawa speaking about the detainment and internment of Japanese Canadians during WW2.  Roy Miki, Japanese-Canadian Redress co-leader and author stands at the top of the stairs in long dark coat and white hair.  Chinese-Canadian historian/author Larry Wong stands on the stairs in rust coloured jacket.  Lorene Oikawa, union leader and human rights activist stands on the right in red coat.
The Parks Canada plaque at Momoji Gardens was re-located for better public viewing, and unveiled.

One of the event attendees shares a personal moment, as she stands beside the plaque with photos of family members.

Naomi Yamamoto MLA, is the first Japanese-Canadian to be elected to the BC Legislature.  She shared a story how her father had spent 5 months living as a detainee at the Livestock Building.  Naomi explained that because her father was an older teen-aged boy, he was separated from his mother.  His father had already been separated from their family and sent to a labour work camp.  Unfortunately, her father could not attend the ceremonies on Saturday, due to not feeling up to it.
My friend Ann-Marie Metten was deeply touched by some of the personal stories.  She wrote:
“Mary Ohara’s story resounded. She told of her incarceration in March 1942 in the livestock barns at Hastings Park, still reeking with manure and infested with bugs. Birds flew overhead and fouled their blankets. Bedbugs bit at night, and the administrators brought in DDT and sprayed the bedding, including the blankets under which the children would sleep at night.

“At age twelve, Mary developed mumps and had to be isolated from others so as not to sprea the highly communicable disease. She and other children were moved to the coal-storage area under the livestock barns, where only a small hole high in one of the walls let in daylight. In the darkness, other young children cried for their families. She was held there for ten days.”
My friends: Ellen Crowe-Swords, Ann-Marie Metten (executive director of Historic Joy Kogawa House), and Joy Kogawa – author of Obasan, the first novel to address the issues of the internment of Japanese Canadians.  Roy Miki, Simon Fraser University Professor Emeritus and 2003 Governor General’s Award Winner for Poetry, had called Obasan, “A novel that I believe is the most important literary work of the past 30 years for understanding Canadian history.”
My friend Inger Iwaasa and my accordion.  Inger married a Japanese Canadian, and her daughter is pianist Rachel Iwaasa, who performed at Kogawa House for the presentation when Joy Kogawa was named recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.  Inger said she recognized each of the songs that I performed: Sakura, Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), O Solo Mio, Neil Gow’s Lament, Hungarian Dance No.5, Dark Eyes.  I wanted to perform a mixed repertoire that would represent many of the ethnic groups that had come to settle in Vancouver: Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Hungarian and Russian.
Todd Wong, Judy Hanazawa, Jessica Quan – special projects coordinator VHF, Mary Kitagawa, Lorene Oikawa, Tosh Kitagawa.

Dinner with Arlene Chan

Jim Wong-Chu, Arlene Chan, Todd Wong.  Jim is holding “Swallowing Clouds” which he co-edited and contributed poems to.  Arlene is holding up her newest book “The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle.  I am holding “Paddles Up!” co-edited by Arlene and she also wrote chapter 1: The Beginnings, to which I contributed a quote, and a picture of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team in the Vancouver Taiwanese dragon boat race.

www.arlenechan.ca

My writing career was launched in 1997 with The Spirit of the Dragon: the Story of Jean Lumb, a Proud Chinese Canadian. This children’s book tells the amazing story of my mother who was the first Chinese Canadian to receive the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour, for her community activism. The Spirit of the Dragon was selected as a Choice Book by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. My second book, The Moon Festival: a Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, was shortlisted for the Silver Birch Award. Awakening the Dragon: the Dragon Boat Festival was published in 2004 and as a paperback in 2007. My fourth publication was released in 2009 as the first book on Canadian dragon boating, entitled Paddles Up! Dragon Boat Racing in Canada. I am currently working on a second book for an adult audience. It is entitled The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle, to be launched in October 2011.
Back Row: Allan Cho, Sid Tan, Adrian Lee, Todd Wong, Sean Gunn, Bruce MacBay, Deb Martin
Front: Albert Lee, Beverly Nann, Arlene Chan, Mary Wong, Jim Wong-Chu
 Here is a youtube video of Arlene Chan talking about Toronto’s Chinese Canadian community, and it’s relationship with McGregor’s Socks, and how the clothing manufacturing industry brought the Chinese and the Scots Canadians together.

McGregor Socks: Arlene Chan

401 Wellington Street West At the former home of McGregor Socks, Arlene Chan tells the story of the Chinese community’s connection with Toronto’s

Gung Haggis Fat Choy CBC tv special was created in 2004

Gung Haggis Fat Choy – the TV special!!

Will it ever be shown again?

In 2004 CBC Vancouver created the Gung Haggis Fat Choy television performance special – it ran again in 2005.  Producer was Moyra Roger who was nominated for 2 Leo Awards for her wonderful work.


View Clip
Gung Haggis Fat Choy
Chinese New Year.
Robbie Burns Supper. Gung Haggis Fat Choy fuses the two unique cultural
events in a celebration of music, dance and tradition. Featuring
performances by The Paperboys, Silk Road Music, George Sapounidis, Joe McDonald & Bravewaves

A CBC Television production.

It was a lot of fun consulting for this project.  Moyra was great to work with, as was executive producer Rae Hull.  And I also became friends with Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibuault of Silk Road Music, George Sapounidis of Ottawa, and also got to know The Paperboys.  Neil Gray gave the Address to the Haggis.  And my longtime bagpiper friend Joe McDonald and his band Brave Waves was featured performing Auld Lang Syne with singer La La – who was also featured later at Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner events.

In 2007 CBC created a documentary series about long time multi-generational families across Canada.  The Rev. Chan Yu Tan family and descendants were selected to be the family from BC.   This was also due to the work I had done in organizing Rev. Chan family reunions, blogging about the family, and helping create a photo exhibition at the Chinese Cultural Centre titled Three Pioneer Canadian Chinese Families in 2002.

Some of the footage from the 2004 Gung Haggis Fat Choy tv performance special were included in the Generations: The Chan Legacy documentary, as well as footage from a 2004 interview I did with Peter Mansbridge for CBC's The National news show.

Here is the picture of me and write up about the Generations: The Chan Legacy documentary

Chan Legacy

The documentary begins with Todd Wong playing the accordion, wearing a
kilt. He promotes cultural fusion, and in doing so, he honours the
legacy of his great, great, grandfather Reverend Chan Yu Tan. The Chans
go back seven generations in Canada and are one of the oldest families
on the West Coast. Reverend Chan's granddaughter Helen Lee, grandson
Victor Wong, and great grandson Gary Lee recall being barred from
theaters, swimming pools and restaurants. The Chinese were not allowed
to become doctors or lawyers, pharmacists or teachers. Still, several
members of the Chan family served in World War II, because they felt
they were Canadian and wanted to contribute. Finally, in 1947, Chinese
born in Canada were granted citizenship and the right to vote.

Today, Todd Wong, represents a younger generation of successful
professionals and entrepreneurs scattered across North America. He
promotes his own brand of cultural integration through an annual event
in Vancouver called Gung Haggis Fat Choy. It's a celebration that joins
Chinese New Year with Robbie Burns Day, and brings together the two
cultures that once lived completely separately in the early days of
British Columbia.

Strombo wades in on the plagiarism issue of Ling Zhang’s “Gold Mountain Blues”

Plagiarism
and the Arts
George Stromboulopoulos comments on the current lawsuit
by authors Wayson Choy, Sky Lee and Paul Yee against Chinese born author Ling Zhang – and points out some infamous examples of plagiarism including George Harrison’s song My Sweet Lord vs He’s So Fine by The Chiffons. 

  

Here are some of the highlight’s from the article

Cold Play’s “Viva la Vida” VS Joe Satriani’s “If I Could Fly”

Strombo points out that unintentional plagiarism still gets you in trouble.  There are videos comparisons of Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and “He’s So Fine”, as well as Cold Play’s “Viva la Vida” vs Joe Striani’s “If I Could Fly” which was was settled out of court in September, 2009.  Strombo also points out the successful lawsuit by the Isley Brothers against Michael Bolton, who had both released songs titled ‘Love is a Wonderful Thing’, only Bolton did it 25 years later.

More interesting are the literary references:

Teenager Kaavya Viswanthan, wrote a hit debut novel, ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life’ which was found to contain different portions of two young adult novels by Megan McCafferty.

Stephen Ambrose’s book ‘The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45’ was found to have copied full passages from six different books that had not been listed as sources.

The Terminator Movie VS Outer Limits segments

If story “ideas” are proprietary, then Ling Zhang may be in big trouble.  Strombo points out that James Cameron had admitted that the idea of the Terminator movie was based on ideas from “a couple of Outer Limits segments”.  Author of the segments was author Harlan Ellison who settled out of court and had his name added to the end credits of the film.

Disappearing Moon Cafe

Can it also be a coincidence that Paul Yee’s Saltwater City, Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe, Denise Chong’s The Concubine’s Children, and Wayson Choy’s Jade Peony, were the 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1996 winners for the City of Vancouver Book Awards
The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

Check out the listed examples of plot and character similarities that have been printed in news stories, from the Federal Court Statement of Claim

Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe (1990), pg. 3

In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a
beautiful girl, Kelora, of rare Chinese/ Native heritage.

Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues(2011), pp. 256-285

In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a
beautiful girl, Sundance, of rare Chinese/Native heritage.

Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe (1990), pg. 237

The Chinese man is old now. Full of regret for his long lost love, Kelora, he dies after a visit from her.

Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues (2011), pp. 511-513

The Chinese man is old now. Full of regret for his long lost love, Sundance, he dies after a visit from her.

Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony (1995), pp. 52-56

Wong Suk is disfigured after working on the railway. He rescues a white
foreman who becomes gratefully indebted as well as a good friend. When
the foreman dies, his son passes along a precious piece of gold.

Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues (2011), pp. 70-72, 145-147, 377

Ah Fat is disfigured in a fight while working on the railway. He saves the
life of his white foreman. They become good friends over the years.
When the foreman’s wife dies, her will leaves money to Ah Fat’s son.

Paul Yee’s The Bone Collector’s Son (2003), pp. 62, 72-73, 79-80, 140-141

Fourteen-year-old Bing works as a houseboy for a white couple in Vancouver. He becomes a
target of white bullies, but his employer Mrs. Bentley rescues him.

Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues (2011), pp. 309-326

Fifteen-year-old Kam Ho works as a houseboy for a white couple in Vancouver. He becomes a target of white bullies, but his employer Mrs. Henderson rescues him.

Paul Yee’s Dead Man’s Gold and Other Stories (2002), pp. 73-78

Hard-working Shek buys a farm while younger brother Ping hates farm work and goes to the city to gamble. Shek pays everyone but Ping. Ping is unhappy. Ping kills Shek.

Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues (2011), pp. 235-236, 241, 243, 246, 247, 249, 328

Hard-working Ah Fat buys a farm while his son Kam Shan hates farm work and goes to
the city to gamble. Ah Fat pays others but not Kam Shan. Kam Shan is
unhappy. He disappears.

Bamboo Lettering at Writers Festival with Jen Sookfong Lee, Kevin Chong and Ling Zhang

To Be Or Not To Be… a Chinese-Canadian Writer…

55
Bamboo Lettering
– event #55 at the Vancouver International Writers Festival
Saturday Oct 22nd, Arts Club Revue Theatre, Vancouver

photo photo T.Wong
This is my favorite photo of the three writers Jen Sookfong Lee, Ling Zhang and Kevin Chong. They each displayed wonderful humour.  Jen is of course the most expressive with subtlely outrageous statements about her mother, food, and her writing habits.  Ling Zhang is the most melodramatic, in a classic Chinese self-denying sort of way, while she claims she doesn't want her writing to be so melodramatic.  Kevin Chong is straight-ahead deadpan humour with insightful observations.

Festival organizer Hal Wake titled this event “Bamboo Letters” because author Kevin Chong is reported to have said he would never want to have “bamboo lettering” on the cover of one of his books.  And so this is the situation posed by moderator Catherine Gretzinger: “Three authors, who could be labelled “Chinese Canadian” if you were keen
to apply labels, talk about the tension between avoiding your heritage
and embracing your heritage.”

Chong admitted that he never really wanted to originally be a classic style “Asian-Canadian writer”, since he came to Canada in the late '60s from Hong Kong with his parents.  And to some extent he has avoided the familiar storylines of head-tax survivors toiling in Chinatown for meagre salaries, and triumphantly integrating into Canadian society (or not) in spite of racism.  Chong instead has opted to write a different kind of Asian Canadian character for his new novel “Beauty and Pity” that is about a post-1967 post-modern immigrant-slacker.  But it is still an update of the clash of generations and how the character must reconcile an Asian-Canadian identity for himself.  I bought “Beauty Plus Pity” at the Word On The Street Festival, because I arrived late (due to a previous engagement) at Chong's book launch held at The Penthouse Nightclub, because I was too busy chatting with others when they packed up the books for sale.

Jen Sookfong Lee is a familiar voice on CBC Radio with her “West Coast Words” segment for “On The Coast”.  She has revealed previously little known characters from Asian Vancouver for her latest novel “The Better Mother”.  Set during the 1980's, Danny is a gay Asian, who recalls meeting characters from Chinatown's burlesque era in the late 1950's.  It is a rich juicy setting that juxtaposes taboo subjects for conservative immigrant families, and Lee's attention to details makes for a colourful read.  I really like this book – but I keep borrowing it repeatedly from the library, because I have been too busy to sit down and read anything… so I keep renewing it and renewing it…and re-reading the beginning chapters because they are so re-readable!

Ling Zhang is an unknown quality.  She has written 5 books, but nobody in Canada has really read any of them, because they were all published in China and only available in Chinese…. until now.  Zhang's newest novel is Gold Mountain Blues, translated from the Chinese publication because Zhang writes in Chinese.  She has written an epic novel spanning 150 years of Chinese Canadian history, 5 generations of a family, detailing the struggles of early Chinese pioneers coming to Canada to work on the the Canadian Pacific Railroad and integrated into the Canadian cultural mosaic.  It is interesting that Zhang is in some sense a recent immigrant, arriving in Canada in 1986 – part of the most recent wave of Mandarin speaking Chinese immigrants whose growing numbers now outnumber the Cantonese speakers of earlier immigration periods.  It is yet a new kind of Chinese-Canadian identity, that has arrived prosperous and assured, without the burden of decades of negative self-identity imposed by decades of systemic racism in Canada caused by Colonial racist superiority, head tax policies (1885-1923), The Chinese Exclusion Act (1923-1947), and limited immigration policies (1947-1967).

Unfamiliar with Zhang's work, and unavailable at the Vancouver Public Library, I googled her name and was surprise to discover that there were numerous news articles concerning the possible plagiarism of her new book, from the works of Asian Canadian literary icons Paul Yee, SKY Lee and Wayson Choy.  In her defense, she stated in The National PostGold Mountain Blues is the result of years of research and
several field trips to China and Western Canada. The research data
obtained over the years is voluminous enough to allow me to write
another complete novel if I chose to. A hundred and fifty years of
Chinese Canadian history is a “common wealth” for all of us to share and
discover. I have not read The Jade Peony, Disappearing Moon Cafe, The Bone Collector’s Son or Tales from Gold Mountain.  Zhang has also said in the Calgary Herald that “I am quite ignorant about what’s going on in the Canadian literary circles,” she says. “This is why it’s so outrageous . . . ‘Excuse me, no
offence to you, but I haven’t read your book. Not because you’re not
great, but because I have been writing in Chinese all the last 13
years.’”

Maybe these issues of different conceptualizations of Chinese Canadian identity is reflected in the author's own experiences of being Chinese Canadian. Over 150 years of immigration, under different circumstances has produced different experiences.  Lee's ancestors probably left China when it was still the Qing Empire of the Last Emperor Pu-Yi, Chong's family possibly left Mainland China for Hong Kong while it was a Republic under Chiang Kai Shek or soon after, and Zhang came to Canada long after Mao had led the Communist Party to power.

Is it therefore possible to consider that there is a common Chinese Canadian literary identity? Is Zhang appropriating the pioneer Chinese Canadian culture and history to tell a universal story, similar to how WP Kinsella told the stories of his First Nations characters from a Reserve in Central Alberta?  Are Lee and Chong broadening the pantheon of Chinese-Canadian characters with their stories?  Or are they still all writing the universal story of identity struggle and reconciliation – but with new settings and and characters.

Unfortunately these questions never really came up.  Discussion topics dwelled on the joys and pitfalls of dealing with editors, agents and publishers, as well as finding their characters. Jen emphasized that the burlesque dancers of Chinatown have never been written about before.  Zhang said that she found her inspiration for her novel by visiting a grave site for Chinese pioneer workers outside of Calgary.   

But the audience had great fun in hearing that the one major common element in each of the passages read by the authors was “food”.   Maybe the moral of this literary question is simply that EVERYBODY LIKES CHINESE FOOD!

See my pictures from the event:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/53803790@N00/sets/72157627972649740/with/6279023738/

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Read more:

National Post: Ling Zhang addresses Gold Mountain Blues plagiarism allegations

Calgary Herarld: The hard road to Zhang's Gold Mountain

Hapa-Palooza literary event with Fred Wah, Joanne Arnott and Tanya Evanson

Hapa-Palooza poets helps celebrate Vancouver 125

The largest meeting room at the downtown Vancouver Public Library was full.  Anna Kaye Ling was moderating questions from the audience to poets Fred Wah, Joanne Arnott and Tanya Evanson.  Ling is one of the co-founders of the brand new Hapa-Palooza Festival, and is also a director for Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop – the sponsoring organization, that helped submit the grants to Vancouver 125.

Each of the poets grew up from mixed race ethnic backgrounds.  Wah is Swedish/Chinese/Scottish/Irish, Evanson is Black/Mixed Caucasian and Arnott is Metis/Mixed.  I've known Fred Wah since 2003, when Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop presented him with the ACWW Community Builder Award.  A few years later, I invited Wah to be the featured poet at the 2005 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.

It would be simple if as the last person from the audience to ask a question, suggest that we forego all labels of race or ethnicity and simply “recognize each other as human beings.”  But poetry and experience that addresses growing up mixed-race isn't that simple.  Humankind has always created a sense of “otherness” to shun those “not like us.”  Wah's award winning poetry books “Diamond Grill” and “is a door” both address the joys and pitfalls of “looking different”.

While the topic of racism, and not fitting in on both your mother's side, and your father's side, was upsetting to some members of the audience, there was a larger sense that this was community.  It was a community of recognition.  It was a community of meeting other people like themselves.  It was a community that was saying “our time has come,” as Canada's first Festival celebrating Mixed Ancestry kicked off it's first of 4 days.

Hapa is a Hawaiian term meaning Half.  It is historically used to describe somebody as hapa haole (half white), but recently it has been used to describe somebody who is half Asian or Pacific Islander.  But now it being used to describe a new emerging tribe of Hapa-Canadians, and their culture – similar to the use of the word Metis.  Historically, Metis was used to describe anybody of First Nations and European heritage.  These people were not fully accepted in either culture, and thus created their own.  And today Hapa is doing the same.

I looked around the room, and saw many Hapa Canadians that I knew, didn't know, and some who were my friends.  Rema Tavares, founder of www.mixed-me.ca had flown out from Toronto to excitedly attend this festival.  Brandy Lien Worrall was holding her new 4 month old Hapa baby, born of Hapa-Vietnamese-Chinese-Pensylanvian Duth, and Hapa-Filipino parents.  Ricepaper Magazine (published by ACWW) was there with our managing editor Patricia Lim, and intern Cara Kuhane – who is a Hawaiian born Hapa.

And I saw my cousin Tracey.  We are both descended from Rev, Chan Yu Tan, our great-great-grandfather who came to Canada in 1896.  Her father is Anglo-Canadian.  When she graduated from high school, as a present, I took her to see the play Mixie and the Half-Breeds, written by my Hapa friends Adrienne Wong and Julie Tamiko Manning.  Tracey enjoyed it tremendously, as it addressed issues of mixed race identity.  Afterwards we went out to eat with Julie and Adrienne.  It was one of the first times Tracey got to meet Hapa artists who actively developing Hapa culture!  Tonight, my little cousin Tracey, is in 3rd year university, and embracing her Hapa-ness by volunteering as a photographer for the festival. 

I introduced Tracey to poet Fred Wah, then in the audience we said hello to poets Roy Miki and Daphne Marlatt.  I introduced her to the co-founders of the Hapa-Palooza, my Hapa friends Jeff Chiba Stearns, Zarah Martz and Anna Kaye Ling.  This is my community, which recognized and embraced her as Hapa.  They commented how wonderful it was that Gung Haggis Fat Choy was one of the inspirations for Hapa-Palooza, and how my Hapa cousin was possibly one of the inspirations for me creating Gung Haggis Fat Choy, as I had wanted to create an event that was inclusive for my family members who were Scottish and Chinese and Hapa.

If more families had members who were of diverse ethnic ancestry, and had more Hapa children – then hopefully there would be less racism.  Because if everybody is related and inclusive to every other race, then it would be harder for politicians to pass laws and legislation such as the Chinese head tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Potlatch Law, the internment of Japanese Canadians, and excluding First Nations from voting until 1960… as Canada did in the 19th and 20th Centuries – because you're gonna hear it from your in-laws!

http://hapapalooza.ca/wednesday/