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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

100 years of change

From a place of racism to a place of integration

By Sarah Jimenez

100 years ago, Vancouver was rocked by anti-Asian riots. On the evening of September 7, 1907, a crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 people marched to city hall demanding a "White Canada." Speeches were announced, and the anti-Asian sentiment grew more aggressive. The sound of shattering glass triggered a chaos that would eventually cost $35,000 in damages for the Chinese and Japanese merchants. These riots marked the rise of racism in Canada, and signalled the beginning of institutionalized racism through federal efforts to prohibit Asian immigration into Canada.

The history of Pacific Canada is a long history; it extends beyond Confederation, the railroad, and John A. MacDonald. The history of Pacific Canada is a migrant’s history. Since Vancouver’s founding 20 years earlier, the population had been a mix of Native peoples and migrants from Asia, Europe, and other parts of North America. One hundred years ago, Vancouver was a world of migrants living on Native land—Vancouver today is still a world of migrants, but in the past century, Canada has transformed from a place of racism to a place of integration.

The Anniversaries of Change network is a broad-based consortium of institutions and organizations that have come together to commemorate 2007 as an anniversary year in the quest for justice and a multicultural Canada. The years 1907, 1947, 1967, and 1997 each mark a watershed moment in the history of Asian migrants in Canada and in their struggles to fight discrimination and to create the society of today.

1907 saw the physical manifestation of hostility and racism during the anti-Asian riots. The government systematically intervened; it imposed quotas on Japanese immigration, "continuous voyage" regulations and a $200 landing fee to exclude those from India, and enforced the "head tax" laws against the Chinese. When the taxes later proved ineffective, the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923. This period in Canadian history was marked by escalating injustices, including the infamous Komagata Maru incident in 1914, and the uprooting and dispersal of Japanese Canadians during and after World War II.

In 1947, Canadians of Chinese and Indian descent won voting rights in British Columbia, and the Japanese Canadian community established what would later become the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Although citizenship was achieved for Chinese and South-Asian Canadians, Japanese Canadians and First Nations were severely restricted from exercising full citizenship rights. While this was a period of recovery and rebuilding for most Asian communities, the legacy of discrimination from the previous era remained embedded in the social and economic fabric of the country.

Forty years ago, the 1967 Immigration Act came into effect. The revised legislation opened Canada to trans-Pacific migration from Asia. The points-based system eliminated country of origin as a pre-determining factor for entry into Canada. New waves of migrants from Asia and other developing countries transformed the social landscape of the country. Canada’s policies evolved to promote nationhood, and include multiculturalism—the first country to ever incorporate cultural pluralism into its legislation.

1997 marked the globalization of Canadian cities. The return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China triggered the aspirations of BC and Canada to engage with the rising economic prowess of the Asia-Pacific region. New waves of Chinese people emigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Elite migrants from all around the Asia-Pacific area invested in Canada, and brought about remarkable changes. The influx of Asian entrepreneurs and investors remade cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, but also presented new challenges in terms of social justice and equality.

The neglected Canadian history contained within these milestone years comes together in 2007. The refracting, recording, and reconciling of this migrant history can chart a new course for justice and equality in Canada. The Anniversaries of Change network is dedicated to claiming these transformative markers of struggle and triumph. The network invites you to recognize these past 100 years of change, and join in the effort for writing the next chapter in the evolving story of Pacific Canada.

For further information about the Anniversaries of Change network, please visit the web site, or contact admin@anniversaries07.ca.

Sarah Jimenez, Anniversaries ‘07 Curriculum project co-ordinator, is a UBC student currently enrolled in the education faculty.

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