Head Tax redress: What is the bigger picture?” Todd Wong commentary

1) Todd Wong 2) with friends at Global News telecast from Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens (ethnic issues during the election) 3) with head tax redress supporters after the Redress Express Train departure ceremony in Vancouver 4) BC Coalition after the Head tax ceremony in Vancouver.

Head Tax redress: 
What is the bigger picture?” 
Todd Wong commentary

So what is the big picture?

I say that the BIGGER picture is this:  hundreds of thousands of Chinese Canadian head tax descendants will wake up out of their sleep, and say… “waitaminute… this isn't fair…”  If granny and grandpa or mommy and daddy died the day before the apology… then they get nothing!  They are dead, and redress is only for the living.

But the memory still lives.  As long as the descendents keep the memories of our mothers and our fathers, our grandmothers and our grandfathers… then they still live.  And if they still live, then redress compensation is for “those living head tax payers and spouses.”

The JC redress committee and the Mulroney Conservatives could not predict the impact, outcome, acceptance or continuing process on the Japanese Canadian community when Redress was made in 1988.

18 years later… the Japanese Canadian community is still broken.  Redress did not undo the despersal of the JC community across Canada, nor did it mend broken families, bring dead loved ones back to life, nor did it give back confiscated property.

There are Japanese Canadians who will never open up a copy of Obasan or Naomi's Road, because the memories of internment and property confiscation is too painful.  Even if Joy Kogawa and David Suzuki are two of Canada's most celebrated writers, examples of triumph despite adversity, members of the Order of Canada, the Order of BC, etc etc etc…    The personal experience is too buried, too integrated, too damaged to ever be completely healed.

Asians who have come to Canada after the 1950's and never understood or experienced the racism that those who lived here from 1880 to 1960 did, may never ever realize the extent of the negative self-identity and learned helplessness that crippled the Asian communities.  Yes… individuals succeeded despite the challenges… That is the triumph of the human spirit.  That is the will of the individual to succeed against adversity.

Talk to the UBC graduates who could not be hired as engineers, who took up jobs as clerks, in the same companies while whites who performed poorer in the same university classes got hired.

Talk to the people who applied for apartments or houses to rent, but were told “it's taken” – but when they phoned back with a “white name” that the place was available.

Talk to the people who were told that they would never be good enough as a white person, so don't even try.

When I hear our celebrated writers such as Joy Kogawa and Paul Yee, and many other friends say that while growing up – they wished they weren't Chinese, or Japanese, or Asian… if they could change their skin, their skin colour – because they were ashamed of being who they were… This is a tragedy.

It is a Canadian tragedy because it was the Canadian govt that is responsible for the Internment, and dispersal of the Japanese Canadians.  It is the Canadian govt that is responsible for the Chinese head tax and Exclusion Act.  It is the Canadian govt that is responsible for the Indian act  It is the BC government that is responsible for the Potlatch Law.

Who is responsible for the Canadian government?
It is the Canadian people.
It is the responsibility of the Canadian people to make redress happen.

Redress worked for the JC community… maybe not completely, but it was a start.  It was an acceptance.  It was an apology.  It was an acknowledgement.  It was a way to address the wrongs, and offer something symbolic to help make things right.

Redress did make people feel part of Canada.  It did offer healing, and the process for continued healing.  My friend Ellen Crowe-Swords told the audience at a Joy Kogawa reading at Vancouver Public Library, that nothing would ever take away all the hurt and anguish caused by internement. But by recieving the $21,000 – “I sure felt better.”

CC redress will not bring back loved ones, it cannot make up for the extra years of hard work paid in blood, sweat and tears.  It cannot erase the memories of Gim Wong being beaten and urinated on as a child.  It cannot take away the shame that Chinese Canadian soldiers felt unwanted.

But it sends a message to Canadians that this is the RIGHT THING to do.  Justice in OUR time.  The people who lived through the Head tax period and Exclusion Act are still alive.  It is THEIR time. It is still OUR time.  It is OUR time, as long as we choose to do something about it.

If we choose to walk away from it, then we are doing what non-Chinese Canadians did back then – by letting the Head Tax happen, by letting the Exclusion Act happen.  

If we choose to walk away from it, then we are doing what non-Japanese Canadians did back then – by letting the internment happen, by letting the confiscation of property happen.

If we choose to walk away from it, then we are doing what the non-Jews in Germany did back then – by letting the hooligans riot in the street on “Crystal Night”, by letting Jews be put on trains to be sent to concentration camps.

If we are to be the best Canadians we can… then we will be inclusive of ALL Canadians.  White, black, yellow, red, brown and pink, as well as every shade inbetween and every shade beyond.  Because this is what it means to be Canadian.  To be inclusive… to embrace cultural diversity as our strength… to find the THIRD WAY….   We do not fight for Win – Lose.  We fight for Win-Win-Win.  You, me and the community at large.  If somebody loses, then we all lose.

If we are to be the best Canadians we can… then we accept that the 1st generation Chinese Canadians were also “directly affected.”  They suffered as their parents suffered.  We know that in the JC community, whole generations tried to ignore and deny the internment process.  We know that whole generations succumbed to “Stockholm Syndrome” – to survive, they had to believe that they had done something wrong, and that the oppressors were their friends, and doing the right thing.

One certificate – one payment.  It is only fair.  If the government says… “sorry, the tax we charged you 120 to 80 years ago was wrong” but does not pay a dollar – is that right?

If the govt uses ill-gotten money because of racism for it's own purposes…  is it right for the govt to profit from racism?

What is the amount of $500 with accrued interest from 1903 to 2006?

If the Government were to charge the equivalent of the head tax amounts today… people would be outraged.  The Martin govt removed the $1000 immigrant landing fee, because it was seen as prohibitive for new immigrants.  What would the equivalant racist head tax be if it were charged today?

$350,000?  That's what Charlie Quan said.

The equivalent of a house, or 2 years salary – maybe more.

Would a landing fee of $100,000 keep undesirable aliens from wanting to come to Canada?

But what if they keep coming… even if we raise it to $200,000 – then $300,000.

The federal govt is getting rich from these new immigrants – but the public opinion doesn't want them in the country – because they are dirty, smelly, have strange customs, will never adapt to Canadian ways.

What will we do?
Create an exclusion act.  Ban them completely.

But what about the ones who are already here, and want to bring over their wives and children.  The immigrants from America and Europe are bringing in their wives and children.

No… we don't want them breeding in Canada.  Keep the wives and children out.  They're not really human anyways.

No redress payments for 1st generation descendents.
This is what the Conservative government is saying.

Do you agree?

Gabriel Yiu writes:

If we take a closer look at the Japanese Canadian settlement, for a father whose house and factory were confiscated and himself put into concentration camp during WWII, when he passed away before the government redress was announced, if his offspring wasn't born prior to 1947, they would received [sic] no compensation.

My father was born before 1947.  Gim Wong was born before 1947.  Alex Louie, WW2 Veteran and subject of the NFB film “Unwanted Soldiers” was born before 1947.  Roy Mah OBC, founder of Chinatown News, was born before 1947.  But they will not recieve redress payment because they parents who paid the head tax are predeceased.  Were they still “directly affected” by the impact and legacy of the head tax and exclusion act?  Many will argue yes.

Under the JC redress paremeters, they would recieve redress payment, even though their parents are predeceased.

Too many head tax payers and spouses have died between 1984 and 2006, when the issue of redress was first announced.  The government needs to acknowledge and honour those that have died before redress was made.  Otherwise, the ghosts are not properly buried and will come back to haunt the government.

It is only fair, just and honourable.

It is merely the end of one head tax era, and the start of another era of exclusion.

Todd Wong
5th generation Canadian
head tax descendant for 4 generations.

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