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.”

Walter has been active in the Chinese Neighbourhood Society, the Chinese Young Professional Association and the Head Tax Chinese Exclusion Act (HTEA) Redress movement. He is well known in the Chinese community in Montréal trying to unite the various political factions in Chinatown. His grandfather paid the $500 Head Tax, but he didn’t know about the history of the HTEA until he got involved in the redress movement. Walter became one of the active members of the Chinese community in fighting for redress as part of the overall struggle for equality and recognition. When he headed the Young Professionals Association, he remembers encouraging our Bethany to be active in community affairs.

Walter now works as an immigration lawyer, helping people to overcome the various obstacles to settling in Québec and Canada.

May Chiu was also born in Hong Kong but grew up in Trois Rivieres. The struggles of her parents formed her social consciousness as a daughter of immigrants that needs to fight to establish her rightful place in Québec. May’s activism began with her involvement in the anti-Apartheid support work in university. This political awareness led her to look at her own community, with all the complex problems of a minority within the Québec national context. She says, « Les ainés chinois avait parmi les plus faibles indications de la santé et connaît qu’ils sont la population avec le plus faible sens d’identité culturelle à Montréal. Comme une minorité à l`intérieur d`une autre minorité, c’est un défi pour nous de se rassembler et de créer notre place dans la société Québécoise. »

May was the executive director of the Chinese Family Services of Greater Montreal, a social service organization serving the community with social aid and French courses to help Chinese integrate into Québec society. Through her efforts at the CFS, May encountered conservative elements within and outside the community who were obstacles to progressive change. Some of her struggles on behalf of the community were equal access to social services, community housing, against establishing a casino in Chinatown and the HTEA Redress campaign. May’s presentation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism internationalized the Redress campaign and helped paved the way for the Apology and partial redress for the Head Tax payers and their families.

May ran as a candidate for the moribund Bloc Québécois against then Prime Minister Paul Martin to expose the hypocrisy of the Liberal government which opposed redressing the Head Tax payers and their families. May shamed Martin when he would not even meet with James Wing, the lone Head Tax payer survivor in his LaSalle riding. May also ran for the Québec Solidaire in provincial elections because she “wanted to represent a progressive side of sovereignty.” May`s faith in Québec independence is not shared by the majority of the Sino-Québécois community who sees this politics to be divisive to the struggles of the Chinese-Canadian minority across the country. Nevertheless, May wants “to assert the fact that I am an equal Quebecer, a Sino-Québécoise.”

May now practices family law and Bethany is proud to say that she was one of her mentors.

What unites our role models is the fact that they are not afraid to stand up to authority. They confront discrimination and the status quo in fighting for equal rights. They are aware of and proud of their own identity as they fight to claim their place in Québec. They are making contributions to defend the rights of the Chinese minority here. I hope there will be young Sino-Québécois who will follow in their footsteps.

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