Veterans fought for Respect – recognizing the contributions of Chinese Canadians
News Features By Matthew Burrows
Publish Date: May 10,
A younger George Ing (left) joined the Canadian
military in peacetime, and to this day salutes the pioneering Chinese Canadian
vets of the Second World War.
George Ing knows how much 2007 means to Chinese Canadians.
On Monday (May 14), the 73-year-old
Richmond resident will join other army, navy, and
air-force veterans at a proclamation ceremony at
Vancouver City Hall
at 10:30 a.m. The day marks the 60th anniversary of the repealing of the
Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 (the Exclusion Act) in 1947, after many Chinese
Canadians had fought in the Second World War on two fronts–to defeat the
spread of fascism and to be recognized as equal citizens in Canadian society.
“I joined in peacetime, 10 years after
the war,” Ing told the Georgia Straight. “When they [Chinese
Canadians] went to war, part of their aim was to show they were worthy
citizens. When they came back, they would take up the task of lobbying to get
us the franchise, which they did. Most of us who weren't around and weren't of
age to do anything are grateful to these guys. We're very aware that it's 62
years now since the end of the Second World War.”
According to Wendy Au, deputy city clerk at
City Hall, the city proclamation Ing has helped organize is not part of Asian
Heritage Month but “coincides with it”.
“This year is significant because of all
the anniversaries,” Au told the Straight. “There will be a dual
ceremony on that day. There will be an official swearing-in
[Canadian-citizenship] ceremony, and we will be honouring
the Chinese Canadian veterans.”
The cities of Burnaby
and Richmond will join
Vancouver in proclaiming May 14 to 21 Chinese
Canadian Citizenship Week. It is 60 years since Chinese Canadians received the
right to vote, and it is also the 50th anniversary of the election of the first
Chinese Canadian MP, Douglas Jung, in Vancouver Centre. In 1907, anti-Chinese
riots took place in Vancouver 's
Victoria-born Ing said his father died when he
was three, and his family knows little about him. Now a grandfather himself,
Ing said he does not know for sure whether his grandfather, an immigrant from
China , was a head-tax payer on arrival in
Canada . In
1903, the Canadian government raised the head tax on Chinese immigrants to
$500. In 1923, Ottawa prohibited new Chinese
settlement in Canada ,
only lifting the ban in 1947.
“I grew up as a kid in
Victoria , and I think we were all aware of
our status in the community,” Ing said. “We weren't regarded well. I
personally grew up with my family on welfare. I can recall a lot of people
making comments like, 'You're a burden on society.' I was a little bit too
young to do anything about it at that time.
“I did make the vow that this is not
going to happen to my kids,” Ing added. “I had to go and pick up a
welfare cheque as part of my responsibilities. Even
at my age, and I was a teenager, I found it humiliating. Yes, the family had to
survive and that was part of my job, but I did not like doing that. It was just
something inside. But we have broken out of that now. My family has done well
and we have broken out of the cycle. I'm proud of that.”
David Wong, 49, grew up on
Union Street in Strathcona.
He has a Web site (www.generasian.ca/) that neatly documents a rich
family history spanning multiple generations in China and Canada, including the
fact that both sides of his family paid the head tax.
“Head tax is a whole other story,”
Wong told the Straight. “Overall, what is really important is that people
know the history of our nation. Whether that's Chinese Canadians or other
community groups, it's important that people realize how the nation got to
where it is today and where it comes from. Younger people take for granted a
lot of the things we have now, such as the ability to become professionals.
This essentially came at a price. These [Chinese Canadian] vets fought for the
right to become full-participating citizens and be accepted.”