Canadians are proud of the fact that they live in a tolerant and multicultural society, but this pride is often ignorant to the fact that racism has played a large part in this country's history, and in many cases it has been systematic and caused much hardship and suffering. Systematic racism has played a significant role in Canada's history, especially with regard to the Aboriginal and Chinese peoples. These are two very different ethnic groups, and they share different sets of circumstances within the Canadian experience, but there are many ways in which their experience in Canada in the earlier decades of the twentieth century are similar, as racism served to define their lives. There are many textbooks and other academic works that speak of this systemic racism in Canada's past, but some of the most moving accounts come from literature, as literature provides a more personal account of the effects of racism in Canada on the individual, and not just the broader social, ethnic and cultural group. Two works of literature that effectively present a personal story of the effects of racism in Canada are The Concubine's Children by Denise Chong and Stoney Creek Woman The Story of Mary John by Bridget Moran.
[...] The story of May-ying provides insight into the racism that found its way into the Chinatown community in Vancouver in the early twentieth century, and it is an interesting account because it serves as a commentary on the hostile attitudes and behaviors of the host community. The study of Vancouver's Chinatown, which Chong's book provides brings into perspective a range of forces, only a few of which have a range and scope that is local. The racism that was experienced in Vancouver's Chinatown was a product of local and distant influences, and had consequences that also ranged near and far. [...]
[...] The time did come when life in Canada became too much for her and she spiraled into a life of drinking and gambling, but the story depicts many ways in which May-ying challenged her adversity and was able to prevail in some small ways. The suffering and hardship that May-ying endured in Canada served to spare her children from the war and suffering in China, and ultimately it led to a better life for them. (Chong, 2006). The story of Mary John is different and similar to that of May-ying. [...]
[...] May-ying's experience highlights how it was normal and very much accepted in Canadian society at the time for Chinese workers to live a much less affluent life, they were paid less, and had few rights especially among the women and especially among the women who were sold as concubines. (Anderson, 1991). The book highlights how “racism and capitalist economic institutions proved to have a symbiotic relationship.” (Chan, 1983: 14). It was a general sense of superiority of the white man that Chong's book highlighted. [...]
[...] In all such actions, hovering more or less imminently in the background, is the personage of the Indian Agent and his staff, who may veto, and must approve and process almost anything that a band council wishes to do on behalf of its membership.” (Moran, 2007: 22). Additionally, the tools of prevention food, clothing, health services were controlled by the Indian Agent, an employee of the federal government, and were dispensed by him. In the 1950s and early my colleagues and I dreaded these mandatory forays to reserves. [...]
[...] This racism that touched the Chinese people like May-ying was a result of a fear that white's had of an “inferior and alien racial minority competing with the whites for scarce goods.” (Chan, 1983: 17). May-ying and her family had to suffer immensely as a result of the systematic racism they endured, however, like many people in her situation at that time; she was able to develop ways of challenging these constraints. The reality is that May-ying had to face adversity throughout her whole life, as she was only a young girl of 17 when she discovered her fate as a concubine to Chan Sam. [...]
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