Recording the Voices of Chinese Immigrant Women in Canada

VPoyDr. Vivienne Poy launched her book, Passage to Promise Land: Voices of Chinese Immigrant Women to Canada last night at McGill University. The book tells the stories of twenty-eight women who immigrated to Canada between 1950 and 1989. The title, Dr. Poy pointed out, is not a typo. “Promise Land” is the name immigrant women gave to their newly adopted country. The book is based on the research Dr. Poy used for her PhD thesis with follow-up interviews on the progress of these women. There are few books about women immigrants, Dr. Poy said, which is why she focused on them. She added that it’s time to recognize that women immigrants helped build Canada. The book also highlights the growth of Chinese-Canadian communities from the end of World War II to today.

Dr. Vivienne Poy

Dr. Vivienne Poy

Dr. Poy was the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate and was instrumental in having the month of May recognized as Asian Heritage Month.

The evening included a panel discussion during which Professor Grace Fong, Janet Lumb and Walter Tom, an immigration lawyer, discussed multicultural issues with moderators Rosel Kim and Katie Spillane.

A Cowherd in Paradise

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May Wong reads from her book, “A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada”

When a friend e-mailed me that May Wong was coming to Montreal to do a reading this past Sunday, I knew I had to go. Her book, “A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada” is about her parents who were separated for years because of Canada’s Exclusion Act which came into law in 1923. My parents story sounded similar to hers and so I went eager to hear what she had to say.

Wong had the audience’s rapt attention as she set the background for her story, explaining the historical details that shaped her parents’ lives. Her father chose her mother from a picture. Her mother didn’t know what her future husband looked like until after the wedding ceremony.  While her father was establishing himself as a restaurateur in Montreal, her mother was in China stuggling to survive natural disasaters and the Japanese invasion. The title of the book is a tribute to her mother who was responsible for the family’s water buffalo when she was a little girl. The book includes old family photos and a copy of her father’s head tax certificate.

While I haven’t read the book yet, I think it would be interesting for those whose parents, like mine, didn’t talk about the past. It is very fortunate that Wong’s mother, not only wanted to tell her stories, but also wanted Wong to publish them. The book is a treasure not only for Wong’s family, but for families of other head-tax payers as well.

The Long Voyage: From Pigtails and Coolies to the New Canadian Mosaic

The Long Voyage: From Pigtails and Coolies to the New Canadian Mosaic

Years ago, when I decided to see if I had the stuff to be a writer, I took a creative writing course at a Continuing Education program at Concordia University. The teacher, to inspire us, told us to write what we know. It sounded simple, and I’ve heard that piece of advice many times since, but I had difficulty because I didn’t think people would be interested in what I knew. I ended up writing a short story based on my experience of working in my family’s restaurant which was eventually published as a children’s picture book, The Fragrant Garden. Since then, I’ve written several stories, both fiction and non-fiction about the Montreal Chinese Community. It’s a way for me to learn about its history as well as my family’s history. My father was  a head tax payer. He was 13 years old when he landed in Vancouver on November 28, 1921 and paid $500 to enter Canada. He never said much about his past, so when I do research, I can only imagine what his story is about.

Now there is an educational website, The Long Voyage: From Pigtails and Coolies to the New Canadian Mosaic, about that period in Canadian history and the history of the Montreal Chinese Community. It has video interviews with descendants of head tax payers and an overview of the history of the Chinese in Canada. Anyone who is interested in Canadian history or the history of head tax payers will find this site useful and informative. It might also spark some interesting conversations in some families.