Kyoto Journal: Multicultural Webfinds – a story about Gung Haggis Fat Choy!

Kyoto Journal: Multicultural Webfinds
– a story about Gung Haggis Fat Choy!

Kyoto Journal
is a non-profit quarterly magazine based in Kyoto, it's objective is to
present throught-provoking perspectives from Asia.

Author/moderator Jean Miyake Downey has written: 

HAGGIS FAT CHOY: Asian-Celtic Robbie Burns New Year with Toddish McWong
in Vancouver – Turning the “East-West Dichotomy” Inside

Jean moderates the feature called 10,000 Things which is a Buddhist expression representing the dynamic
interconnection and simultaneous unity and diversity of everything in
the universe.

Somehow she thinks Gung Haggis Fat Choy fits into this
perspective.  Jean and I have exchanged e-mails, and she wrote the
following piece based on our conversations and what she found on

HAGGIS FAT CHOY: Asian-Celtic Robbie Burns New Year with Toddish McWong
in Vancouver – Turning the “East-West Dichotomy” Inside

When Asian Eyes are Smiling
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Asian laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Asian hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Asian eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away…

song, especially when sung by a Chinese- or an Irish- or a Japanese-
or a Scottish- or a Korean- or a First Nations- or a Filipino- or African-
or Arab or Mexican- or Ukrainian-Canadian tenor, or all of the before-mentioned
hyphenalities in one person, always brings tears to my eyes. A twist
on the musical tribute to Ireland, “When Asian Eyes are Smiling”
has become one of Vancouver's anthems hailing the intercultural fusion.

A groundbreaking leader in this global movement, Canadian activist and
bon vivant Todd Wong does more than mix food, song, and fun from Scottish,
Chinese, and many more cultures in his annual celebration of Vancouver's
intercultural fusion — the annual Gung
Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year
, now in its
tenth anniversary. With acute wit and humanity, he challenges essentialist
descriptions of culture, subverts the usual ways of thinking about differences,
and consciously creates a space that embraces everyone:

“Gung Haggis Fat Choy does more than mix East and West. It blends
them together and turns them upside down and shakes them out sideways.
It highlights Canada's Scottish and Chinese heritage and pioneers. It
breaks down barriers and is an impressive forum for the emerging intercultural
Canada where everybody can claim and celebrate Chinese and Scottish
culture and everything in-between.

Expect great cultural fusion music between East and West, as Scots musicians
play Chinese music and Chinese musicians play Scottish music… and
everything in between and beyond!”

Scheduled between the Gregorian calendar New Year's and the Chinese
lunar New Year, and incorporating the birthday of Scottish poet Robert
Burns, this hybrid New Year's celebration is a valentine to Vancouver's
intercultural community, and proudly serves the “world's first
haggis shrimp dumplings, haggis spring rolls, haggis-stuffed tofu???
in addition to the now famous haggis won ton! For all the non-haggis
lovers there will be: lots of vegetarian food…tofu appetizers, deep-fried
tofu, tofu with vegetables, tofu hot pot, tofu with taro, tofu-stuffed
haggis, and tofu pudding…”

The Gung Haggis Fat Choy has morphed into an ever-increasing series
of creative events — a GHFC festival at Simon Fraser University, a
GHFC World Poetry Night, featuring Robbie Burns' fierce poetic manifesto
on human equality, “A Man's a Man For All That,” and a Dream
Dragon Dance.

A fifth-generation descendant of the Reverent Chan Yu Tan, a Christian
minister who emigrated from China to Canada in 1896, Wong celebrates
his extended family's mix of Scottish, French and other European cultures,
and First Nations, as well as Chinese.

A documentary,
chronicled his cousin Chief Rhonda Larabee's
discovery of her previously obscured
First Nation heritage
and subsequent resurrection of the
Qayqayt band, long considered a vanquished tribe, until she insisted
the Canadian government recognize her status as a surviving member.

Ann-Marie Metten describes Wong's road
to intercultural awakening and activism

It all started in 1993, when Todd attended Simon
Fraser University, home to a World Champion pipe band. When organizers
asked him to help out with the University’s annual Robbie Burns
celebrations, Todd says: “I was befuddled with the idea of a Chinese
guy (me) wearing a Scottish kilt and having to show my bare knees out
in the snow. But I quickly realized that this was my epiphany—a
true multicultural moment.”

Todd's sharp humor and energetic humanity resounds on his blog,
one of the most insightful sites for diversity commentary on the web,
and a smart, lively mix of news and activism.

A friend of fellow Vancouver resident, Japanese-Canadian novelist and
activist Joy Kogawa, he has kept an up-to-date account of the activist
movement to memorialize the Joy
Kogawa House
, which the Kogawa family lost when they were
incarcerated during the Japanese-Canadian internment. In another entry,
he reports efforts to name a park in Vancouver after globally renowned
environmentalist David Suzuki, who was also forcibly removed from Vancouver,
with his family, to a camp in the central Canadian wilderness. A story
on poet-activist Roy Miki notes that the author was awarded three prestigious
university awards (Gandhi Peace Award, Thakore Visiting Scholar, Sterling
FOR JUSTICE, and his work in the movement and commitment to the ideals
of truth, justice, human rights, and non-violence.

Paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who saw the connections
between the African-American movement for equal rights with worldwide
anti-colonial resistance, and continuing post-colonial movements, Todd
adds commentary about the continuing struggle by Chinese Canadians and
their supporters to rectify the damage that the Canadian government's
Head Tax
perpetrated. The government imposed this intentional
economic barrier on Chinese immigrants to Canada, during the “White
Canada” historical period, that lasted from the mid-nineteenth
to the mid-twentieth century. During the exclusion era, early Chinese
pioneers were not allowed to bring their families, including their wives,
to Canada. As a result, the Chinese Canadian community became a “bachelor
society”. The Head Tax and Exclusion Act resulted in long periods
of separation and many Chinese families did not reunite until years
after their initial marriage, and in some cases they were never reunited.
While their husbands were struggling abroad, many wives in China were
left to raise their children by themselves, experiencing severe economic
hardship and deprivation.

Besides bringing the power of humor, food, music, poetry, storytelling
and dragon boat racing to his part in co-creating an all-embracing intercultural
society, confronting the hard issues of historical racism and contemporary
injustice, and persistent essentialist stereotyping head on, Todd blows
apart all the boring and predictable takes on multiculturalism, hybridity,
and assimilation. He asks fresh questions, reflecting wide inclusionary
views of all cultures, and deep angles into both the past and the future:

“Canada's multiculturalism has become like a display of pretty
little ethnic boxes for display. That was fine for the 1970's and 1980's.
We had to grow into it, out of our colonial past, into post-colonialism.
But what is next? Hapa-ism?

“Canada is a nation of immigrants. Some old – who think they
own the place. Some new – who think they own the place. Some brand
spanking new – who think they own the place. Where are the common threads?

“I went to see the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with
a friend who was born in Hong Kong, and came to Canada as a teen. She
sees something in the movie that is a typically Greek-Canadian immigrant
thing, such as the Greek father wanting his daughter to NOT date a non-Greek,
or spoil his son, or the Greek aunties trying to set up their un-married
niece… and my friend exclaims 'Ai-yah! Just like Chinese people.'

“The truth is that there is universality amongst all immigrants.
They want to retain their traditional practices and behaviors, as well
as a sense of identity. This is the comfort zone. If they lose it –
what do they become? Non-Greek? Non-Chinese? Non-Scottish? Do they become
American? or Canadian? What is that?

“How do we address an “evolving culture” that adjusts
with each new boat load, plane load, refugee wave?

“What is a traditional Canadian culture? What happens when the
families become culturally blended? What happens when a Chinese-Italian
marries a Persian-Quebecois or a Scottish-English-Welsh-German-Finnish-Japanese?

“And in the end… we eat… we laugh… we sing… we make love…
we make babies… and another generation begins.”

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