It’s been a pretty action-packed weekend. I spent Thursday and Friday at a symposium called Redress Express, organized by Alice Jim for Centre A in Vancouver. It gets its title from the train trip surviving Head Tax payers took across the country earlier this year to hear Stephen Harper apologize for that nasty piece of racist legislation that forced Chinese immigrants to pay ever increasing amounts of money to enter the country between 1885 and 1923, before the government passed legislation that excluded us altogether. Redress Express, the symposium, is happening in conjunction with a range of activities dubbed Anniversaries of Change, which marks the 1907 Anti-Asiatic Riots in Vancouver, the 1947 repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1967 Citizenship Act and the 1997 “return” of Hong Kong to China, which triggered a large wave of immigration to the West Coast of Canada.
The first panel was particularly inspiring. Chris Lee talked about the problems of linear history, the arbitrariness of the number seven, and the act of commemoration. Kirsten McAllister followed with a discussion of events such at the Komagata Maru incident as one among many other incidents not marked by ‘o7’ that contribute to histories of trauma and exclusion. Her discussion focussed the difficulties of embodied experience for the traumatized, and the tension between those kinds of history that are articulable and those that, precisely because of their traumatic nature, are not.
Henry Yu closed the panel by calling for a recognition that the “white Canada” McKenzie King was so desperate to “preserve” is a myth. He suggested that it was in fact late arriving whites who took the jobs of Asian and First Nations people who were already here on the West Coast, when Europeans arrived. (Much of the anti-Asian sentiment in the last century was driven by white labour movements who resented Asian labour and capitalized on the fact that racialized people couldn’t vote.) The Chinese built the railroad because they were already here. And it was that work that enabled the European settlement of this coast.
There were many more great panels and discussions– way more than I can tell you about on this blog. The symposium was attached to an exhibition at Centre A on Chinese Restaurants and the Head Tax Issue. Particularly compelling is Karen Tam’s reproduction of a small town Chop Suey house, part of a series of restaurant reproductions she’s been doing across the country for the last five years. Poster art from Gu Xiong, a fabulous rice crispie pagoda by Shelly Low, a recycling of Ho Tam’s 1993 chapbook project The Yellow Pages, and a series of photographs of old Chinese Canadian restaurants along Hastings Street by Kira Wu.
Powell Street Festival today. I went to a talk at a location cryptically dubbed “The Chapel” (it’s an old funeral home!) in which Kamala Todd, Cease Wyss, Grace Thompson and Wayde Compton talked about the histories of First Nations, Japanese Canadian and Black Canadian presence in the Downtown Eastside. There are so many parallels among the communities in the experience of repression and violence. It was a great coalition building moment to bring those voices together.
In other news, I’m noticing that my ancient website is getting a lot of hits, which tells me I need to update it soon. That material is very old, and I’m not sure why U of C continues to run it, because I took it down two years ago. They don’t let me have my old email account anymore! I’ll try to get a new one up soon. For those of you who don’t know, I begin my tenure-track teaching position in Canadian Literature at UBC this fall. So that’s a bio update. It also means I’m madly prepping and can’t quite apply my head to a website yet. Trying to wrap up a few papers, turn my diss into the book, and steal a moment or two for creative projects languishing on the backburner. I’ve also just taken up the position of Poetry Editor for Canadian Literature. I’m looking for submissions, so check the CL website for guidelines and submit, please!
I’m missing my cousin’s wedding in the States and am bummed about that. It’s great to be in town this weekend though, for Redress Express, Powell Street Festival and Pride. Life in Vancouver is very nourishing these days, both for ideas and for the soul.