Being Chinese in Canada: The Struggle for Identity, Redress and Belonging
After the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885—construction of the western stretch was largely built by Chinese workers—the Canadian government imposed a punitive head tax to deter Chinese citizens from coming to Canada. The exorbitant tax strongly discouraged those who had already emigrated from sending for wives and children left in China—effectively splintering families. After raising the tax twice, the Canadian government eventually brought in legislation to stop Chinese immigration altogether. The ban was not repealed until 1947.
It was not until June 22, 2006, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to the Chinese Canadian community for the Government of Canada’s racist legacy. Until now, little had been written about the events leading up to the apology. William Dere’s Being Chinese in Canadais the first book to explore the work of the head tax redress movement and to give voice to the generations of Chinese Canadians involved. Dere explores the many obstacles in the Chinese Canadian community’s fight for justice, the lasting effects of state-legislated racism and the unique struggle of being Chinese in Quebec.
But Being Chinese in Canada is also a personal story. Dere dedicated himself to the head tax redress campaign for over two decades. His grandfather and father each paid the five-hundred-dollar head tax, and the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act separated his family for thirty years. Dere tells of his family members’ experiences; his own political awakenings; the federal government’s offer of partial redress and what it means to move forward—for himself, his children and the community as a whole.
Many in multicultural Canada feel the issues of cultural identity and the struggle for belonging. Although Being Chinese in Canada is a personal recollection and an exploration of the history and culture of Chinese Canadians, the themes of inclusion and kinship are timely and will resonate with Canadians of all backgrounds.