Gary Gee: the head tax descendant in Nunavat
Gary Gee is a head tax descendant now living in Nunavat… above the arctic circle.
He puts together a nice arguement for individual compensation for head tax descendants.
I wish to put out the position again for
the families of the lo wah kiu, the pioneers of the Chinese Canadian community,
who were the main victims of government-legislated racism and discrimination.
amount of money, can really compensate for the collective and
individual suffering of this part of the community.
It seems pretty obvious to me that many of
of headtaxpayers are also the ones who suffered when the Exclusion Act was legislated
into law for 24 years. That includes my father and my deceased grandmother who
were separated from my grandfather. Let’s be clear here, on both sides of the ocean
– whether in China or Canada, all
suffered as a result of the Exclusion Act. My grandfather was a human being, a
husband and a father, NOT
a faceless slave laborer.
I am thinking this suffering could be
misunderstood by people who are debating this compensation issue and what it
There is a large psychological impact on anyone
who has gone without a parent, spouse or child for a long length of time. And,
in Chinese families in particular who are very close, it has had some tragic
consequences. Some families never reunited, on both sides of the ocean.
At the same time that the Chinese were
prevented from reuniting our families in Canada,
this government-sanctioned segregation also occurred in native communities
where children were separated from their parents most of the school year in
residential school for a period of up to seven years. They are now receiving billions in compensation, very few for
sexual or physical abuse, but for having the government try to take away their
identity by schooling them with lies and distortions about their culture. What
state sanctioned treatment should that remind us of?
In fact, studies have shown that the
psychological impact on people is tremendous when families are broken up. It
passes through generations. Simply, if you do not have a father, then it’s very
likely you also don’t grow up understanding how to be a parent when you have
Did my generation (I am 46 now) also have
fatherless childhoods? I know I did, and I think many of us did but don’t talk
about it. How would my father know how to parent when he didn’t have a father
up to the time he was 16? What did it do to our family and what did this do to
us collectively as a community?
Back then and in my father’s generation,
there was no help for people of his generation – counselors or volunteers who try
to help immigrants adjust to Canada.
There was nothing for them in 1950. They still weren’t wanted in Canada after
1947. No one really cared whether the Chinese adjusted or adapted.
So, it wasn’t simply two acts of
government in 1923 or even 1880 with the head tax. But the head tax and the
Exclusion Act influenced a whole generation of Canadians into believing that
there was something wrong with the Chinese and it really influenced attitudes
toward our community even up to 1968 when the immigration process was changed
to not use race or color as a criteria for coming into Canada. It was
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who promised this, it was continued by Prime
Minister Lester Pearson, and finally enshrined into legislation by Prime
Minister Pierre Trudeau – along with Trudeau’s Multiculturalism Act.
In speaking out for the family – not just
on the issue of compensation and an apology – but on the issue of how well our
government and Canadians understands this community and the role the Chinese
Canadian community has played in shaping this country, we should all have
something to say – Canadian born or not. Chinese Canadians have accomplished so
much collectively as a group and individually in being responsible citizens of
this country since the Exclusion law was repealed in 1947.
It is Canada’s loss that we were denied
the right to vote and to be contributing members of society for more than two
generations. That’s the loss that all of us should think about. Had we been
together as families and as one society of Chinese Canadians, we could have
made done a lot more than we have. And Canada has suffered a great loss
too. We have had so much to offer this country, long before our generation
demanded the head tax be paid back.
As you know, in terms of our parents and
grandparents who suffered, they didn’t have either economic opportunity, nor
equal rights to education, nor an ability to combat the racism they encountered
as we do today.
And there was racism after 1947, a lot
more than we know or believe. And it has happened in my generation. It has
happened in school, in the workplace, in society at large. Were there racist
teachers during this time? Yes. Were there racist employers and landlords?
Yes. The list goes on. We just haven’t talked about it enough as Chinese
So, maybe what will come of all of this is
that we do talk more about how we fit into Canada and its history and I think
Canadians are listening more to what we have to say. We are part of this
country’s history. They don’t know what happened because THEIR history
books don’t say much about it, except for Pierre Berton. Very few I know read
the books of Tony Chan, Paul Yee, or Henry Tsu and others.
To end, I would say that is why some of us
descendants are fairly passionate about the head tax and the Exclusion Act.
The effect of this kind of government sponsored racism cut across
generations, even to my generation.
It’s not about the past. It’s about what
Canadians can learn from their past. We were the victims of those mistakes.
They just didn’t see us the way we saw ourselves.
Have a good summer, people.
From the land of the Northen Lights,