Taiwanese Canadian leader describes election of three B.C. MLAs as historic milestone

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      While most British Columbians were gripped on election night by the seesaw battle between the New Democrats and the B.C. Liberals, there was jubilation in the province's community of Taiwanese expatriates.

      That's because for the first time in B.C. history, not one but three candidates of Taiwanese heritage were elected to the legislature.

      Two of them—Burnaby-Lougheed's Katrina Chen and Burnaby–Deer Lake's Anne Kang—were born in Taiwan. The third, Bowinn Ma in North Vancouver–Lonsdale, is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants.

      All three were running for the B.C. NDP.

      In an interview with the Straight at Vancouver's Taiwanese Cultural Centre, community leader Cecilia Chueh called the three women's victories an "historic milestone".

      Beaming with pride, she noted that two other Taiwanese immigrants—New Democrat Lyren Chiu (Richmond–North Centre) and B.C. Liberal Conny Lin (Vancouver–Mount Pleasant—also ran for major parties in the recent election.

      "They are all young ladies and this is the first time ever any Taiwanese were running for MLA," Chueh, CEO of the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society, said.

      Later in the interview, Chueh added: "I think that will make the Taiwan-Canada relationship in the future even closer."

      Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society CEO Cecilia Chueh is thrilled by the election of three MLAs of Taiwanese heritage.
      Charlie Smith

      Chen is a school trustee and former NDP constituency aide to MP Peter Julian and MLA Raj Chouhan. Kang is a Burnaby councillor and a music teacher in the Burnaby school district. Ma is an engineer and project manager at Vancouver International Airport.

      Chiu is a Langara nursing instructor and Lin is a UBC graduate student in neuroscience, specializing in the relationship between exposure to alcohol and the nervous system. 

      Prior to the election, the Straight interviewed Carol Pan, head of the Greater Vancouver Taiwanese Canadian Association. At the time, she too expressed excitement over the participation of the five women of Taiwanese heritage in provincial politics.

      "We are very proud of them," Pan said.

      Community leaders Carol Pan and James Chou helped lay the foundation for the Taiwanese-Canadian political success in B.C.
      Charlie Smith

      Pioneers led the way

      Chueh said that she believes the first Taiwanese to immigrate to Canada was Dr. A-sin Tsai, the wife of a Presbyterian minister. Tsai studied medicine at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University and returned to Taiwan after the Second World War.

      She was in the country during the notorious February 28 Incident, a.k.a. the 2.28 Incident, when the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government killed approximately 10,000 Taiwanese demonstrating at an antigovernment uprising. This occurred in 1947, less than two years after the 50-year Japanese occupation ended.

      The KMT under Chiang Kai-shek moved en masse to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese Civil War and imposed martial law that lasted for decades.

      In the meantime, a small trickle of Taiwanese immigrants started coming to Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, including Richmond physician Dr. Charles Yang and local accountant James Chou.

      Dr. Charles Yang (with Coun. Andrea Reimer) was one of the Taiwanese pioneers in B.C., arriving in Canada in the mid 1960s.
      Charlie Smith

      They and others, including Chueh and Pan, worked extremely hard to promote Taiwanese culture in Canada. And Chou has pointed out in the past to the Straight that Taiwanese expats helped those within the country who fought for the lifting of martial law, which occurred in 1987.

      The Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society was founded in 1991. Yang was its president for many years.

      "Taiwanese have been working so hard to adjust to our new life here and integrate into the society," Chueh said. "The second generation definitely stepped into it. We think it's important not only for us to get into the mainstream, we really need to introduce our culture to Canadian society."

      Another cultural ambassador for the community has been Charlie Wu, managing director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association. Through the annual TaiwanFest and LunarFest celebrations, he and his team have increased local appreciation for Taiwanese culture and the country's willingness to forge friendships with its neighbours.

      Asian-Canadian Special Events Association managing director Charlie Wu and his staff have worked tirelessly to promote Taiwanese culture and build bridges through events like TaiwanFest and LunarFest.
      Charlie Smith

      Chueh noted that there are several things that Taiwan, an island nation of 23 million, has in common with Canada.

      Not only do both countries appreciate arts and culture and have fully functioning democracies, but they are also making advances in reconciliation with their indigenous peoples.

      However, there's one key difference: in Taiwan, there are seats reserved in the national legislature for First Nations representatives. That still doesn't exist in Canada.

      Those interested in learning more about Taiwanese culture can attend this weekend's Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival, which runs from Friday to Sunday (June 9 to 11) at Vancity Theatre.

      At 8 p.m. on Thursday (June 8), there's a free screening at the Taiwanese Cultural Centre (8853 Selkirk Avenue) of Mackay: The Black Bearded Bible Man, which is about 19th-century Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay. He spent 30 years in Taiwan, establishing more than 150 churches, as well as schools and a hospital.