La Taxe d’entrée, c’est quoi ça? / Head Tax, what’s that?

Hing Dere Head Tax Certificate

One of the reasons why the Chinese community in Québec is still an immigrant community is the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act (HTEA), which lasted from 1885 to 1947, 62 years. Even though, the early Chinese came to Québec 150 years ago, the Chinese Exclusion Act and other restrictive immigration laws prevented the Chinese from arriving in Québec in large number until the 1980’s. The Sino-Vietnamese “boat people” arrived in the early 1980’s, followed by the Hong Kong Chinese fleeing de-colonization there in 1997, and now the Chinese come mainly from the People’s Republic of China to settle in the various regions of Québec. The early Chinese pioneers who were affected by the HTEA came mainly from the Toishan district of southern Guangdong province.

At the start of this film project, we set out to get the attitude of the young Sino-Québécois to the history of the HTEA. Gina Gu, a recently arrived immigrant feels, “It is unfortunate what happened in the past but us young people must live in the present in order to survive here.” Parker and Bethany, whose families have been in Canada for 3 to 4 generations feel that the HTEA directly affected their families and kept their families apart for many years. It is sad for many of the HTEA families whose Head Tax payers have passed away. For them, the government Apology was “Too little, too late.”


Belonging (2)

“We’re still here / we’re going strong / and we’re getting tired of proving we belong.”

         – “Asian Song” written by Chris Iijima, performed by Charlie Chin

« Pourquoi pas, je suis né au Québec. Je suis Québécois comme tous qui sont ici. »

         – Charles Wong

Bethany soulève une question fondamentale de la minorité chinoise au Québec. Sommes-nous québécois? Nous pourrions être sino-québécois, québécois d’origine chinoise, Chinese-Canadian, ou pas de label du tout. Certainement, nous ne sommes pas québécois pur-laine ou de souche.

Why do we need to engage in this debate that is framed by the dominant majority? In this debate we cannot win. It is the power construct, les rapports de force, we don’t have the power. The only thing we can do is be true to our own identity, stand up for our rights and claim our place here. We should not be caught in the middle of this dichotomy, to be “Québécois” or “not Québécois”,  “Français” ou ”Anglais”, “nous” ou “les autres”? Nous sommes les chinois du Québec. This is why I want to make this film: “être chinois(e) au Québec”, to be Chinese in Québec, to give the community a voice. In order not to be marginalized, we need to be proud of our own cultural identity and not fold ourselves into the dominant culture. This identity awareness gives us the power to be true to ourselves and be comfortable in our own skin.

Ce n’est pas tout le monde qui est d’accord avec ma politique culturelle, mais il est grand temps de s’investir dans ce débat afin de faire valoir la vision de la communauté chinoise. Ce débat continue…


Bon, une autre semaine d’enseignement terminée, et comme d’habitude – et surtout parce que j’enseigne un cours sur la diversité culturelle – plein de questions qui restent avec moi, comme des traces. Jeudi, ma classe m’a confirmé ce que je savais déjà. En parlant des accommodements raisonnables – « scandale » créée par les médias il y a quatre ans – un étudiant me réplique le sorte de commentaire que je commence à m’habituer avec. « Nous, les québécois, il faut que nous soyons respectés, que nos valeurs soient suivis par eux. » En voulant amener la conversation encore plus loin, je le taquine un peu. « Nous, ça veut dire quoi exactement? Ma famille, on est ici depuis quatre générations, est-ce qu’on fait partie de « nous. » » Toute ma classe me dit non, certains à voix haute, d’autres avec le mouvement de leurs têtes, mais décidemment et certainement, et mon coeur, comme tant d’autres fois, fais boum.

C’est un peu comme l’entrevue qu’on a fait avec Katherine Riva, et son explication de pourquoi ma grandmère et mes oncles ne pourraient pas être considérés québécois. Même si ils ont travaillé toutes leurs vies – dans des fabriques, dans des restaurants, des emplois bien honnêtes et sujets aux beaux impôts québécois – le fait qu’ils n’ont pas maitrisé la langue française les exclue en permanence de la collectivité québécoise. Selon moi, il y a d’autres façons de contribuer à une société, et ce n’est pas tout le monde qui peut apprendre une langue rendu l’âge adulte. Et même si j’appuie la cause du français comme langue première au Québec – même jusq’au point de me sentir gênée de parler l’anglais en publique! – je ne vois pas comment ce mouvement devrait écraser les droits d’autres, surtout ceux qui n’auraient pas autant de temps libre à consacrer à l’apprentissage du français.

La culture Sino-Québécoise – c’est quoi ça?

The term Sino-Québécois is seldom heard of, let alone Sino-Québécois culture. Culture exists to reflect the common experiences, values and expressions of any group of people that shares a collective heritage and identity. Culture develops for the community and not against anyone else.

A people’s culture can also reflects the larger dominant culture and can absorb many of those elements that are influential or imposed, be it language, TV, film, music or arts and letters. In a multi-intercultural society, culture does not only reflect the dominant population. Even in Québec, there are minority cultural entities like the Teesri Duniya theatre and the Montréal Serai e-zine that depict the South Asian experience here. The more established cultural communities, such as the Jewish and Italian, are represented by people like the much maligned Mordecai Richler and the Italo-Québécois playwright Marco Micone.

Does a Sino-Québécois culture exist?  Of course it does. Its existence is independent of one’s will. When you have a group of Chinese come together, like the Chinese Social Club, they express their shared experiences, identities and ergo, culture. Cedric Sam reflects some of the cross cultural experiences of the Chinese in Quebec on his Blog, . One question that Parker and Bethany asked in their travels around Québec was “What do we have in common?”

–          “Our face?”

–          “The way we cut the oranges!”

That is on the surface, but once you dig deeper, there is a common sense of struggle to live here as a minority that we all share and there is an eagerness to express that experience.

One Sino-Québécoise who has written about her experiences living here is Day’s Lee. Unfortunately, we have not been able to meet her for this film, but here is an example of her writing which some of us can identify with.

Warrior Women
by Day’s Lee

« Two. » Jingping Chen carefully enunciated, and pushed a five-dollar bill through the opening in the glass. Thin lines marbled the skin across her knuckles, red and dry from washing vegetables and rice daily, and cracked from the heat of gas fires generated under the giant woks. At forty, she had the hands of a woman twice her age. In her haste to change out of her splattered uniform and arrive on time at the Park Avenue theatre, she’d forgotten to slather on hand cream.

Two days ago, one of the waiters told her the theatre next door to the restaurant was showing Chinese movies every Wednesday afternoon for the summer. A Chinese movie! In China, she once walked several miles to the next village to see this marvel. Here in Canada, the black and white television images didn’t make sense because she didn’t understand English.

Ever since they bought the restaurant four years ago, life was a cycle of work and sleep. Overseeing the kitchen meant endless hours on her feet. Between customers arriving for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there were chickens to kill and pluck, egg rolls to make, homemade pies to bake, and supplies to replenish. A bowl of rice, some stir-fried meat or fish, and a cup of tea were downed in a short thirty-minute lunch break. Friends commented that her five foot three inch frame looked smaller since she’d lost weight. Rivers of grey seeped into what used to be ink black hair, now cut short to fit under a hair net.

The middle-aged woman in the glass booth bobbed her Jackie Kennedy hairdo in understanding and rang in the sale. « One adult, one child, » the cashier confirmed in a heavy Greek accent. « Three dollars fifty. » Her plump manicured hand took the five-dollar bill, and then slid the tickets and change across the green marble counter and through the slot. Lire la suite

Être Chinois au Québec – Role Models

Upon reviewing the rushes of our road trip through Québec, there are certain people that stand out as role models in the Sino-Québécois community.

Ms. Xiang Ma was a professor in a university in China when she decided to immigrate to Canada. She is one of the leaders of the Chinese Calego workers who confronted the employer when he accused the Chinese workers in the factory as being dirty and eating like pigs. Ms. Ma along with Mr. Yong Shan He led a walkout and filed a complaint with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. As a result of their united struggle and determination, the Human Rights Tribunal awarded 15 workers of Chinese origin $150,000 for moral and punitive damages (see earlier posting, 6 septembre). Mr. He was physically assaulted for his leadership role but he was not intimidated and he was awarded additional compensation by the Tribunal as a result.

Ms. Ma now operates a dry cleaning establishment and Mr. He, an engineer in China, is now working in another factory as a computer numerical control machine operator. Both Ms. Ma and Mr. He believe that workers, especially minorities, should stick together and oppose any form of discrimination. As recent immigrants, they are determined to stand up for their rights and make a good life for themselves and their families here. Their struggle for justice united the Chinese community behind them. They set a good example for Chinese and other minorities to fight against discrimination.

Walter Tom was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Quebec City. He graduated from Laval Law School but he was not able to get a job in his profession there and he was forced to move to Montréal. When asked what it is like to be Chinese in Québec, his one word answer is “Tough. But it was even tougher for my father and grandfather.” Lire la suite