Retired lieutenant-colonel George Ing knows how much 2007 means to Chinese Canadians.
On Monday (May 14), the 73-year-old Richmond resident will join other army, navy, and air-force veterans at a proclamation ceremony at Vancouver City Hall at 10:30 a.m. The day marks the 60th anniversary of the repealing of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 (the Exclusion Act) in 1947, after many Chinese Canadians had fought in the Second World War on two fronts–to defeat the spread of fascism and to be recognized as equal citizens in Canadian society.
"I joined in peacetime, 10 years after the war," Ing told the Georgia Straight. "When they [Chinese Canadians] went to war, part of their aim was to show they were worthy citizens. When they came back, they would take up the task of lobbying to get us the franchise, which they did. Most of us who weren't around and weren't of age to do anything are grateful to these guys. We're very aware that it's 62 years now since the end of the Second World War."
According to Wendy Au, deputy city clerk at City Hall, the city proclamation Ing has helped organize is not part of Asian Heritage Month but "coincides with it".
"This year is significant because of all the anniversaries," Au told the Straight. "There will be a dual ceremony on that day. There will be an official swearing-in [Canadian-citizenship] ceremony, and we will be honouring the Chinese Canadian veterans."
The cities of Burnaby and Richmond will join Vancouver in proclaiming May 14 to 21 Chinese Canadian Citizenship Week. It is 60 years since Chinese Canadians received the right to vote, and it is also the 50th anniversary of the election of the first Chinese Canadian MP, Douglas Jung, in Vancouver Centre. In 1907, anti-Chinese riots took place in Vancouver's Chinatown.
Victoria-born Ing said his father died when he was three, and his family knows little about him. Now a grandfather himself, Ing said he does not know for sure whether his grandfather, an immigrant from China, was a head-tax payer on arrival in Canada. In 1903, the Canadian government raised the head tax on Chinese immigrants to $500. In 1923, Ottawa prohibited new Chinese settlement in Canada, only lifting the ban in 1947.
"I grew up as a kid in Victoria, and I think we were all aware of our status in the community," Ing said. "We weren't regarded well. I personally grew up with my family on welfare. I can recall a lot of people making comments like, 'You're a burden on society.' I was a little bit too young to do anything about it at that time.
"I did make the vow that this is not going to happen to my kids," Ing added. "I had to go and pick up a welfare cheque as part of my responsibilities. Even at my age, and I was a teenager, I found it humiliating. Yes, the family had to survive and that was part of my job, but I did not like doing that. It was just something inside. But we have broken out of that now. My family has done well and we have broken out of the cycle. I'm proud of that."
David Wong, 49, grew up on Union Street in Strathcona. He has a Web site (www.generasian.ca/) that neatly documents a rich family history spanning multiple generations in China and Canada, including the fact that both sides of his family paid the head tax.
"Head tax is a whole other story," Wong told the Straight. "Overall, what is really important is that people know the history of our nation. Whether that's Chinese Canadians or other community groups, it's important that people realize how the nation got to where it is today and where it comes from. Younger people take for granted a lot of the things we have now, such as the ability to become professionals. This essentially came at a price. These [Chinese Canadian] vets fought for the right to become full-participating citizens and be accepted."