Feelings Before Facts
We learn lessons throughout life. This is also applicable to countries and entire civilizations. With a perfect understanding of the present, one may possess the ability to predict the future. But we also forget.
Alas there are few of us who hold anything close to that amount of information, and a lot of the population has forgotten many of the injustices that happened in BC not even a century ago. In and prior to the early 20th century, Canada was a vastly racist state. Canada was a ‘white mans nation’. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that Canada started to become more inclusive, having been decreasingly racist after World War 2.
People have forgotten the racism that enveloped Canada in and before the 1900’s. Many do now know of the injustices done to those who were other or non white. And as history tends to repeat, we have seen an increase in racism throughout North America. The history repeats itself not because it must, but because people have forgotten their mistakes. They choose to believe in their feelings and ignore the facts. There are solutions to this, the main one being education, and what better way to educate the population then to create a public memory using a memorial.
This is what my class did in the first few months of the school year, but first we had to learn about the subject of our memorials, Asian immigrants.
Here are the three distinct groups that we researched all of whom immigrated to BC.
South Asian Immigrants (British Raj)
In my opinion, what was done to these people was the worst out of the three distinct groups we were looking at, not because they were treated the worst, but because they were lied to and refused the rights that they were given by living under British rule. Although the Brits wanted as much stability as possible amongst their subjects, they turned a blind eye to the racist laws Canadians passed to stop the Indians from coming into their country. These laws were put to the test with the Komagata Maru incident, which the Canadians, along with the Brits won.
Unlike the South Asians, the Chinese weren’t under British rule and were therefore not given any of the rights the citizens of the British Raj were supposed to have. Despite that, many Chinese migrated in search of better lives in North America. A lot of them came to BC and landed in Vancouver.
Before the Trans Canada Railroad was opened, 1/3 of the population of BC came from East Asia. Due to laws restricting these immigrants from getting good jobs, many of them worked on the railroad for which they weren’t fairly compensated. “It is estimated that three Chinese workers died for every mile of track they laid.” Immediately after the railway finished, it was clear that the Canadian government didn’t want Chinese immigrants to stay in Canada. The government started measures like the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Immigration Act. These acts remained as laws until as late as 1947 when Canada started becoming a lot more inclusive towards Chinese, in part due to the horrors of the Second World War.
Before 1941, the Japanese had more or less the same rights as the Chinese had, being not allowed to vote and only being allowed to work in certain industries. Japan also industrialized a lot earlier than China and they avoided a lot of the political turmoil that enveloped the mainland in the 1940’s leading to less emigration. Nevertheless, there were still Japanese that came to Canada with Canada only letting 1 – 4 hundred Japanese in per year during the 1930 – 1940’s. The biggest industry for Japanese in BC was fishing, where a lot of the Japanese were self employed or had family businesses. There were hundreds of Japanese either coming to Canada for better lives or to send money back to Japan. Then when Japan started to expand its empire, the Canadians became concerned and then when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, Canada imprisoned all of the Japanese west of the Rockies, even after the Canadian army did a study and found that there was no real fear to have of the Japanese. With the white Canadians being very pro Japanese Internment, the politicians put the Japanese into Internment Camps along and east of the Rockies. Even when the Japanese were given contracts that stated that they would get their belongings back, the Canadian government took their belongings and assets and sold it to the highest bidder. The Canadian government took the Japanese men and sent them to either work camps or outsourced them to farms in provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. It wasn’t until 1949 that the Canadian government let the Japanese back to west of the Rockies, 4 years after WW 2 ended. It wasn’t until 1980 when the Canadian government apologized for their actions.
During our project, my class went to several museums, memorials, and exhibitions about Asian history in BC, throughout Vancouver. We heard stories from people with degrees centred around what we were studying as well as people who could remember the events or stories of them, passed down by generations. We used the knowledge we gathered there to construct webs of notes, questions, and ideas about the memories and memorials they were presenting to us, in order to have a better and more in depth understanding of the topic at hand. We had an understanding great enough for us to sustain a picture of the lives they lived.
Using this understanding, Liam, Jonathan, Ryan, and I were able to create a concept for a public memorial that would create the memory of past wrongs as to not allow them to be repeated today, here’s how we did it and what was done.
Our group was selected by the teacher based on what our strengths were so we would work the most efficiently. We were then randomly assigned one of the three topics. Our group had to do a memorial for the internment of people of Japanese descent, even if you were a third generation Canadian, as long as you looked Japanese you had to go into internment.
With our knowledge from the trips we had gone on, we knew what had worked, attracted the most attention, and told the story in the best way, and what hadn’t.
So we brainstormed and shared ideas that we had had during our studies. After discussing for a little bit, Ryan shared her idea, an upside down version of a typical Japanese internment building with all of its interior and showing the living conditions of the eight Japanese who lived in the 7 by 4 meter shacks with a 4x7m smaller version of a house above it displaying all the information and telling the story of the interned Japanese Canadians.
Once we had ascertained our goal, we needed a plan and roles for all of the team members in order to attain our maximal efficiency. Liam created a 3D model, Jonathan worked on the plaques, and me and Ryan worked on the physical model as well as the beautification of our segment of the exhibition. Eventually, we had created a good exhibit. During the exhibition we explained it quite well, and we made something that went really well considering we hadn’t had much preparation, and a lot of our project was last minute.
The only thing I’d change before we’d send the model off to the city, would be to make the model a bit more accurate, and build the park around it so that they’d see the whole experience.
It was a fun project and I learned a lot about the history of Asians in BC.