happy humiliation day!

posted by missmsian

I always approach Canada Day with some hesitance. On one hand, I have good memories of going to Queen’s Park with my parents (when we first immigrated to Toronto) and getting 25-cent hot dogs and paper flags.

Over the years, I’ve seen the annual celebration slowly change to better reflect our demographics. There used to only be English and French performances on the main stage, but recently there have been shows featuring other languages. The hot dog prices have also gone up, but that’s another story.

On the other hand, July 1 marks another significant Canadian event that far fewer people know about, but that has had tremendous consequences for certain Azn communities. On July 1, 1923, the Canadian government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively barred East Azn* immigration until it was repealed more than 20 years later.

*Japanese people were sometimes subject to this Act because, y’know, we can’t tell ’em apart. The Act could also be used to prohibit South Azns from entering the country, if they somehow got past another discriminatory piece of legislation, the Continuous Passage Act.

“The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885. It took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country.” — Chinese Canadian National Council

The Act came as a response to public and political concern over the growing number of East Azn immigrants in spite of the head tax (which was increased from $50 to $500 in 1903, $500 being the equivalent of two years’ wages).

Between 1923 and 1947, when the Act was repealed, less than 50 Chinese people entered the country. Most who were already here were men, leading to the development of a “bachelor society”–one factor that undoubtedly contributed to the desexualization of Azn men we see in popular discourse today.

"Harro, I Mickey Rooney playing ching chong man. I ruined Breakfast At Tiffany's wif my yellowface performance."

Similar legislation was passed in the U.S. In fact, then-president Roosevelt only called for the Act to be repealed in 1943 because the U.S. Army needed more recruits. Whether in war or on the railroads, East Azns were considered unimportant enough to blow up.

After WWII, people of East Azn descent still didn’t have the right to vote. Canadians of Japanese descent had been uprooted and sent off to concentration camps in the prairies during the war. Their now-empty properties in the Fraser Valley were conveniently given to white Canadian soldiers returning from overseas.

I could go on, but I think I’ve given you enough to understand why July 1 is known as “Humiliation Day” among some Chinese-Canadians. You probably didn’t learn about this in high school; I grew up in the Canadian public school system and I certainly didn’t.

Think about this as you’re celebrating “Canada” Day. And chew on the fact that we sing “our home and native land” in the anthem when, really, it’s our home ON native land.

Oh, Canada.


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