Sid Tan is an Urban Legend in the West Ender newspaper

Here's an article on my friend Sid Tan from the pages of the West Ender newspaper in Vancouver BC.

Thursday, March 10, 2005
Urban Legends


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Long-time Eastside activist Sid Tan took his grandfather's advice to heart.

Sid Tan, on head tax and being a good-time man

Who: Sid Tan

What: President of the Vancouver Association of Chinese Canadians

Born in China, Tan came to Canada as a 'paper son' – under falsified
papers that showed him to be the son of his grandparents. Tan and his
family were affected and separated by exclusionary government policy
which was in place as recently as 60 years ago. Today, Tan works as a
social activist, fighting for an official apology from the Canadian
government, which would include a redress of the $500 'Head Tax' once
charged on Chinese immigrants.

brief: “I'm from East Van, formerly out of Saskatchewan. I'm a
good-time man. That's why I'm known around the world. I'm a Gold
Mountain dragon and a Rocky Mountain warrior. The other day, my friends
and I had a contest to see who could eat a live rat the fastest, and I
won. I've got steel wires for guts, concrete in my bones and fire in my
blood. I've been called a Navajo, I've been called Juan from Mexico,
I've been called Carlos the Filipino, but my favourite is still 'Good
Time Joe.' I can cook better, eat faster, love longer, yell louder,
shout and act dumber than anybody I know, with the exception of my
Uncle Bing. There's not a woman alive that can't make a fool out of me,
that's how tough I am.”

Knowing his roots: “To live is hope. In the great scheme of things, I
have two kids, they're both full-grown. My son's a lawyer in Sydney,
Australia, and my daughter's a professional poker player. I'm a
grandfather. So what are you going to do? I have to try to make a
better world. That's hope. I get pensive, but you get to choose, and I
choose to participate. I choose to participate because my grandfather
didn't have the chance to participate when he was my age, because he
was a second-class citizen. It was not until 1947 that he could
actually vote as a Chinese-Canadian. He always impressed on me the
importance of that.”

Go left, young man: “Even as a kid, I was pretty politicized. One of
the first battles I fought in and won was Medicare in 1962. I mean, who
would have thought we'd ever have that? When I was a kid, somebody
threw a rock at me and I was blinded in one of my eyes and I had to go
to University Hospital in North Battleford. I seem to recall that it
was $1,300 that my grandfather had to pay. I remember I had to write
out the cheque for him, and that was a tremendous amount of money, that
was all his savings. You never forget that.”

things never change: “I graduated from the University of Calgary with
an arts degree, and that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. I
was supposed to be a lawyer, but I got busted. I was named after a
lawyer, actually, a man called Sidney Waterman… my grandfather,
knowing a bunch of important people, and wanting to bring us kids over,
knew that this man was responsible for helping make that happen, so he
decided to honour him.”

things never change, part II: “This is my claim to fame in my hometown:
I was the first person busted for hash possession…. We were at the
University of Calgary, and we had this massive amount of hash and we
brought it back to Battleford. Big mistake…. We got busted, and I had
to spend a night in jail and think I had to pay a $500 fine, and I
think my tuition for school was only $300, so it was a lot. These are
things you look back on and, they weren't funny at the time, but you
look back and you see that it's kind of funny, and this is the way
heaven's meant it to be – just like my grandfather getting his
citizenship in 1947 and the Communist Revolution happening in China in
1949. Some things are meant to happen.”

upstanding citizen: “I think in regard to recovering the head tax
there's no use negotiating numbers until the government decided to come
to the table to negotiate. I've talked to the survivors – and remember,
we're talking about a handful of people. There's only three
head-taxpayers that I know of in Canada, and I've been working on this
20 years. There's some spouses, women that were separated from their
husbands during exclusion from 1923-1947. I believe that they should
get some sort of individual recognition and compensation. As for the
descendants, the sons and daughters, they can decide what they want,
but I think that many of them would be happy with some sort of larger
community redress.”

the future: “What we're having trouble with is the recognition. They
haven't apologized or anything, they're just throwing money out there
and letting us fight for it…. How come the Japanese have received
redress? The head tax and exclusion is more current. I don't care about
compensation; I'm going after the principle of the tax refund. I
believe the 81,000 people who paid the head tax should be commemorated.
Because a hundred years from now, their descendants will be claiming,
like Americans do with their ancestors who came on the Mayflower: 'My
ancestors paid the head tax, and my ancestors got justice.'”

the past: “Both my grandparents are buried in Battleford, Saskatchewan.
I don't really have any loyalty or patriotism to the old country. I was
born there but I've never been back… I'm a proud Canadian. One of the
reasons I do this is because I'm interested in the story. I don't care
about the money, I don't care about the compensation. I want to put the
story right. That's what I feel I have to do, as a Canadian.”

wisdom: “This is my grandfather's, but I'll put it in a more literary
way: when you exercise your muscles, you build your body; when you
exercise your brain, you strengthen your mind; and when you exercise
your rights, you reveal your soul.”

Copyright 2005 westender

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