Asian Heritage Month
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Archives: May

The Last Log

Thursday, May 31, 2007 | 12:54 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Throughout the month we've followed the story of Darshan Singh Gill, new Canadian, circa 1959. The last time we met up with Darshan he'd taken a job at a lumber mill in Victoria, B.C. Today's clip finds him busy at work, clad in wool socks, workman's boots, checkered flannels and cap. The narrator assures us that though it is the nightshift, Darshan "doesn't mind that - he can sleep in the mornings and have his afternoons free to roam the city and widen his interests as he moves out to greater independence. Gradually he will change and adjust as what is now awkward and strange becomes easy and familiar." Sounds like a David Attenborough voice-over about the infancy of the speckled wood butterfly.

Now, I haven't read my Marx and Engels for some time now, but I dare say that this tidy conclusion, more like a lullaby really, leaves out a great deal, and I am bothered by it. I mentioned the stereotype of the pliant Indian yesterday, and would argue that this program's conclusion reinforces an ideology that prefers the new immigrant, and the labourer, to be obedient and grateful for what little mercies are on offer. No mention that Darshan might aspire to anything more than stenciling and stacking logs - not to imply that this isn't important work, because it is. Set to a rather eerie score, Darshan exits the lumber yard and heads towards town as the narrator again weighs in: "at nineteen (...) life is good (...) what problems there are look more like challenges than threats." The film concludes as Darshan walks up the city's sedate Government street. What would that walk have been like for a dark man in flannels carrying a steel thermos and smelling of sweat and timber? This is a history that cannot be identified in archives.

lastlog


View the final footage from Here and There (1959) (runs 3:03)

Yogi got to be kidding

Wednesday, May 30, 2007 | 04:35 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Passage O soul to India!
Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.
Not you alone proud truths of the world,
Nor you alone ye facts of modern science,
But myths and fables of eld, Asia's, Africa's fables
- from Walt Whitman's poem A Passage to India in Leaves of Grass (1855)

These lines from Whitman represent a plea for the romantic's soul to reject the materialism of the capitalist West and to instead be tamed by the East, and all its mysteries. Whitman was not alone in entreating the Occident to take up the spiritualism of India (Emerson and Thoreau mused in a similar vein) and he would not be the last to invoke a fantasy of India as a panacea for all that ails the modern man.

The character of the enlightened but pliant Indian who has come to save the West is a part of Asian History in the sense that it, along with much uglier stereotypes of the Oriental, has influenced interpretations of Asians and Asian culture. From the Swamis of the 19th and early 20th Century, who traveled through California sharing the wonders of the 'primitive' religions, to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s with his introduction of transcendental mediation, to Deepak Chopra, and his peddling of homeopathic cure-alls for atomized baby-boomers - ascetics and Yogi Godmen are Western perennials. In his collection of essays about such "sly babas," The Karma of Brown folk (2000), Vijay Prashad offers that "the 'mystery' of India resides in the other, somewhat archaic, meaning of the word: a revealed religious truth. The East is mysterious in that the texts of its ancient past hold within them something akin to a Holy Grail." Today's CBC Archives clips illustrate aspects of this current in Asian-Canadian history.

The Maharishi Mahesh was the founder of the Transcendental Meditation Movement. The Maharishi was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (or Guru Dev) with whom he spent much of the 1940s and 1950s in the Himalayas. Though his professional training was in physics, in 1957 the Maharishi initiated the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in Madras, India and later brought it to Hawaii and then the rest of the West. In the late 1960s and 1970s he was prominent in the counter-culture scene, and is arguably best known for his association with celebrities like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Clint Eastwood. [The Mahesh passed away in February 2008 at the age of 91]

In October 1966, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was interviewed in Vancouver by Bob Quintrell for the 7 O'Clock Show. In this clip, the Maharishi muses on the philosophy and practice of yoga and transcendental meditation. He also compares thoughts to air bubbles arising from the bottom of the sea and laughs hysterically after doing so.

mahesh

View Bob Quintrell's interview with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1966) (runs 4:48) Watch Video

In May 1973, CBC Television's Hourglass aired a feature on the Yasodhara Ashram Society or Yoga Retreat & Study Centre, a 83-acre retreat on Kootenay Lake, B.C. where people of all religions and backgrounds were invited to pursue their self-development. Host Mike Winlaw visited with Sylvia Hellman, also known as Swami Sivananda Radha, and captured her disciples in various stages of mystic revelation.


View the Kootenay Yoga retreat footage (1973) (runs 1:07)

Retreat footage part two (runs 1:37)

Sikhism is a 500 year old religion that was boosted in late 1960s North America by the hippies. In May 2006, CBC news reporter Belle Puri interviewed the Yogi Bhajan, who had arrived in Surrey, B.C. to lead a Kundalini yoga workshop. A spiritual leader mostly to unorthodox (that is to say, Anglo) Sikhs, the Yogi Bhajan arrived in Los Angeles in 1968, by way of India. The Yogi founded the non-profit 3H (Healthy, Happy, Holy) Organization in 1969. Any devout health food store shopper will recognize the products he owned and endorsed, which include Yogi teas, cereals and beauty products. He died in 2004.

View the Yoga Bhajan footage from CBC Vancouver News (1996) (runs 4:40)

The Israelites

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | 12:03 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

This being the last week of Asian Heritage Month, I'm going to throw some atypical selections out there for your enjoyment. The first is in recognition of the diversity of the term "Asian" which, according to the last Canadian Census, includes Israelis - who are West Asian. To say that I cannot begin to introduce Israeli issues without going way, way beyond the scope of this blog would be a massive understatement. However, I can present some footage of a remarkable Israeli-Canadian, the architect Moshe Safdie.

Moshe Safdie was born in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel) in 1938 and immigrated to Canada in 1953. His family settled in Montreal and, at the age of 17, he began architecture studies at McGill University. In 1967, he devised the master plan for Montreal's World Expo: the iconic Habitat 67, adapted from his graduate thesis. Habitat 67 was a design for Jet-Age urban living made up of 158 prefabricated concrete apartment cubicles (or containers) stacked and connected through steel cables. This modular structure emphasized a unit of housing and its connectivity to surrounding dwellings (although the original plan called for some 900 individual units ascending towards the sky, only Phase One of the project was ever completed). In mixing cells within a communal structure, it represented Safdie's aim "to try to create a human environment with the maximum utilization of technology" and a consideration of the need to affirm a sense of community while acknowledging the 20th Century North American preoccupation with privacy and isolated living.
In March 1971, the CBC Television program Telescope, hosted by Ken Cavanagh, presented Tour of Israel with Moshe Safdie. The documentary (which has a fantastic score, by the way) follows Safdie to Israel where he had been commissioned to build a rabbinical college in the old city. In the film, Safdie reflects on the connection he feels for his homeland and speaks to that ineffable sense of belonging and sometimes guilt that many immigrants feel when they return to their country of birth. Safdie also talks about enlisting in the Israeli army, from Canada, at the start of the Six Days War in 1967 (the war would be over before he could fight, hence the name).

Safdie established an office in Jerusalem in 1970 and was deeply invested in the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem following the war. Over three decades this would include the new city of Modi'in, the new Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the National Campus for the Archeology and the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial.

Watch Tour of Israel (1971) (runs 22:15) Look for a small boy stuffed in a box. Awfully cute, not to mention evocative of Habitat 67.

You can view many more clips of Safdie discussing his architecture on the CBC Digital Archives site

Finally, further to last week's clips from Wok with Yan, I bring you Jewish cooking, prepared by a Canadian, Mona Brun. Mona prepares cabbage rolls and latkes in this January 1962 episode of CBC Television's Cuisine 30, an afternoon cooking program out of Vancouver.Watch as Mona muses on some "taste-tantalizing" recipes she has learned from a young Jewish friend.

Missing Saigon

Friday, May 25, 2007 | 03:29 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

So how long has it been since you saw a band of Vietnamese-Canadian children dressed in gold lame vests and Colonel Sanders style black bow ties performing a cover of a Mexican standard in a CBC studio? I thought as much, which is why this Friday's entry features The Saigon Kids, a group of brothers and sisters aged 7 to 11 who came to Canada from Vietnam around 1980, not long after the Saigon airlift.

The children were interviewed by Paul Winn for an August 1984 episode of CBC TV's The Canadians. While drinking A&W Root Beers, they speak about the difficulties of learning English and about missing their homeland, though all are resolute (in an 8 year-old sort of way) that they do not want to return to live there. They also talk about wanting more Canadian-sounding names - which I hope none of them went through with later in life. When I was in Middle School, many of the female boarding students from Asia took some of these Canadian-sounding names though I maintain that they must have consulted a 1940s issue of Chatelaine magazine since they chose names like Betty, Pamela, Shirley, Ethel, Henrietta etc. Every September at roll call I would dart my head around fearing I had been transported into an Ethel Wilson novel. My point is that the poor dears shouldn't have changed their names.

saigon


View the interview with, and performance by, the Saigon Kids (1984) (runs 5:01)

You Are Wok You Eat

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 | 08:19 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

It is impossible to turn on the television these days (granted, I only have the one channel, guess which) and not come across a maelstrom of cooking shows, along with cooking shows which bleed into unpoetic lifestyle shows (note to TV producers: the activity of shopping for ginger root does not require an Ennio Morricone soundtrack and montages of putting one's pashmina shawl on to shop for ginger root). Not so long ago, the genre's stars were limited to Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet. In Canada there were even fewer. I don't think this is because Canada lacks a rich culinary history (pea soup and tourtieres, poutine and Old Dutch potato chips if you please), rather, it's because we have long been impaired when it comes to marrying any topic with, well, television pizazz.

Some great one once said that "only in Canada would passion be mistaken for asthma" - and this reserve would certainly hold for most Canadian television hosts of years gone by. There is wok notable exception, however. That wok be Hong-Kong born Stephen Yan of CBC Television's Wok with Yan. The afternoon cooking show aired from 1980 to 1995 (though throughout those years Yan also hosted the travel and variety show, Wok's Up?) and was syndicated in the U.S. and across Asia for years.

Wok with Yan is perhaps best remembered for its host's ebullience and propensity for the wok pun, delivered with a thick Cantonese accent. Each episode featured Yan clad in a new apron embellished with bubbly-lettered bon mots like: Wok Goes In Must Come Out; Don't Wok The Boat; Keep On Wokking In the Free World; Wokkey Night In Canada; On A Clear Day, You Can Wok Forever and Over Wok, Under Pay. Significantly, Yan introduced mainstream Canada to Asian cooking. While previous Canadian cooking show hosts might have confused turmeric with the yellow colouring once used to dye margarine, Yan reveled in Thai stir-fries, sweet and sour fish, chicken with pineapple and so on.

Wok with Yan would usually begin with a Polka Dot Door-style filmed vignette of the dish of the day's country of origin and would end with the opening of a fortune cookie (read in Cantonese, then English) and our host inviting a guest from the audience to sample the generous meal - no minimalist foodie presentation of sliced acorn garnished with chicory infused sprig of parsley for Yan. In the following clips from a March 1990 episode taped before a live studio audience in Vancouver, Yan prepared deep-fried salmon steaks and canned Salmon Egg Foo-Yung with tomato garnish. Also featured is a short montage shot in Malaysia at a rubber plantation and processing factory. Yan provides the narration, it's pretty wokky.

yan

wok


Watch the first part of Wok with Yan (1990) (runs 7:31)

Watch Yan dig into the meal with audience member Betsy. One wok at Betsy's outfit and you'll swear it's 1986 - but trust, the episode is from 1990. (runs 2:06)

As It Happened

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | 04:15 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

In May 1960, CBC Television's Explorations aired Japanese-Canadians: Exodus, a two-part documentary study of Japanese-Canadians. It traced their origins in Japanese villages like Mio Mura (footage of which is featured); their immigration to such communities as Steveston, B.C.; the discrimination and prejudice they encountered; their internment and loss of property during the Second World War; and their eventual re-establishment and assimilation after the war. Host Bob Quintrell spoke with Dr. George Ishiwara, a Vancouver dentist who discussed the limited opportunities in the professions for those who didn't yet have the franchise.

japanese

Watch the first part of Japanese-Canadians: Exodus (1960) (runs 6:14)

The program also featured a young couple who expressed only a vague connection to their Japanese heritage - not too unusual since by 1960 many Japanese-Canadians were second or third generation and were likely no more in touch with ancestral customs than second or third generation Canadians might be today.

Interestingly, as Peter, the gentleman in the following clip puts it, being Japanese was very much "in vogue" in the early 1960s. He points to a Japanese influence in theater and contemporary music and architecture (the latter appreciated in the designs of Arthur Erickson, for example). By 1960, Takao Tanabe was already a noted abstract painter, Roy Kiyooka had begun teaching at UBC and the classical Japanese music ensemble, The Koto Ensemble of Greater Vancouver, had been established under the direction of Miyoko Kobayashi. Peter admits that it is a cause of some embarrassment that he is ill-equipped to offer any special perspective at a time when being Japanese in Canada evolved from a burden to a marker of hipness.

Watch the interview from the second part of Japanese-Canadians: Exodus (1960) (runs 4:34)

Ideas of home

Friday, May 18, 2007 | 07:15 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Post & Beam, Vancouver Special External Link, Monster Home - each of these shorthands denote much more than architectural sensibilities, or, arguably, lack thereof. Post-war affluence was represented by the high ceilings and expansive windows of the mid-century Post & Beams. The economic recession, home buying by baby boomers and changes to immigration patterns in the 1970s help explain the boxy, Vancouver Special style, which emphasized making the most of square footage with extra rooms, garages and secondary suites to accommodate tenants or in-laws. The Monster Home, now a North American fixture, is an even more culturally loaded descriptor.

While Chinatowns, Little Indias and Little Italys connote neighbourhoods in which immigrants in a particular era have set up shops and community spaces, monster homes are historically associated with the new class of business immigrants who arrived in Canada throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Monster homes (on the West Coast anyway) are superficially known for their immodest spaciousness, stuccoed exteriors lacking in detail and gates sometimes crowned by fiberglass lions. However, movements such as globalization, transnationalism, and economic neoliberalism ought to be acknowledged in concert with any attempt to deconstruct, as it were, the monster home.

Signed in December 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration mandated the transition of power over Hong Kong to China in 1997 following 150 years of British Rule. Not surprisingly, Hong Kong's affluent professionals had a lack of confidence in the Chinese Communist government. Around the same time, changes to Canada's immigration policy in 1985 allowed for new considerations of the business immigrant These could include entrepreneurs, investors and the self-employed, so long as they had capital (a net worth of at least $500,000 and at least $250,000 invested in Canadian ventures). There were, then, both political and economic reasons for increased emigration to Canada by wealthier immigrants.

The largest volume of Hong Kong immigrants arrived in Canada between 1990 and 1994, approximately 172,840 or 57% of all Hong Kong emigrants. The numbers fell from 1994 to 1997 following the Asian Financial Crisis and later as confidence in the Chinese government and markets grew (only about three thousand or less a year after 2000). Most of the new immigrants settled in Vancouver - Asia's Pacific Rim counterpart. The influx of immigrants was such that Vancouver would be dubbed Hongcouver, an offensive term that persists today.
Monster homes were built throughout the mid-1980s and 1990s to accommodate these new immigrants. The most pronounced and publicized tensions occurred in the wealthier parts of Vancouver, where some older homes were being demolished and replaced with homes which were, on balance, wildly dissimilar to the existing neighbourhood aesthetic. Residents united in opposition to their construction, putting pressure on the municipal government to enact zoning bylaws restricting lot size and housing designs. Curiously, it was developers who speculated that these were the kinds of homes new residents wanted, well ahead of the immigrants even arriving in Canada.

In a 2004 article in the Vancouver Courier External Link, architecture columnist Barbara Petit recalled that "neighbours kept trying to find reasons to say why they didn't like the houses and one of the reasons was their neighbourhood would be overrun by people that they couldn't even understand (...) We interviewed {the immigrants} and they were shaking their heads. Immigrants that were coming in were educated, they had good taste but they couldn't understand what was being served for dinner. In many cases, they weren't the houses they wanted to buy, but they wanted to seem Canadian and they assumed for the longest time that it was what Canadians liked. The insides of the houses were very tasteful."

Nevertheless, many of their predominantly white middle and upper class neighbours feared the Hong Kong immigrants planned to establish new urban fiefdoms, in the process tearing down structures associated with "a British-inflected cultural vision of stability and harmony." ** Older homes represented old money and continuity with history while the new homes symbolized offshore wealth and global shifts in economic and political influence. All of these issues coalesced at a neighbourhood level as disputes over 'good taste' and 'compatibility' were sometimes racialized as variants of the old xenophobic Oriental menace caricature.

This 1992 clip from CBC Television news in Vancouver captures public debate over the construction of the monster homes and centers on a zoning bylaw that would have restricted lot sizes and established design guidelines. It is interesting to observe here how the civic government (at the time led by Gordon Campbell, now B.C.'s Premier) was put in the position of mitigating disharmony which had its origins in policies at a federal and international level.

monsterhomes


Watch the Monster Homes segment on CBC news (1992)(runs 3:57)

gzowski
Peter Gzowski
In March 1990, Morningside's Peter Gzowski spoke with local resident and broadcaster Colleen Leung who explained the reasons for the Hong Kong influx and admitted her own concern over the "conspicuous consumption" of Hong Kong Asians. (runs 10:57)

** Katharyne Mitchell in Crossing the Neoliberal Line: Pacific Rim Migration and the Metropolis (2004)


Goin' Down the Road with Darshan

Thursday, May 17, 2007 | 08:04 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

When last we saw Darshan Singh Gill he had arrived from the Punjab to Victoria B.C. and was set to begin his job hunt. As I've described in previous posts, opportunities for visible minority immigrants at this time were usually limited to labour work in farms and the forest industry (the latter, for men folk only). Darshan arrived in Victoria only 12 years after Indo-Canadians were granted the franchise - not enough time, I'm sure, to meaningfully diminish long-standing social barriers and prejudices. Limited knowledge of English, as well as Canadian culture and pleasantries, would have further burdened Darshan's search.

As you can observe in this clip, Darshan darkens the doors of lumber yards and the like, though his handsome coat and coiff betray the hopes of a gentleman who would like to go much further. Fortunately, his new job (as we see in the clip) puts him in a union - a protection that would at least afford him a measure of job security and, importantly, a sense of community. Check this site on May 31 to see Darshan in his new working class ensemble.

darshantwo


View a clip of Darshan from Here and There (1958) (runs 8:41)

You can view a list of significant dates in Canadian Sikh history at explorASIAN External Link

Sounds Like Trudeau

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 | 03:11 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

The 2006 film The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized account of life in Uganda under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. Amin, who came to power following a military coup in 1971, was by all accounts a ruthless leader who premised several of his strategies on paranoia and providence. One such incident involved a visit from God in a dream instructing Amin to rid the country of its Asian population. God furthermore offered that Amin nationalize Asian owned properties, which included homes, hotels, breweries, sugar refineries and cotton factories. Amin duly appeared on state television in August 1972 and decreed that the country's 80,000 Asians would be expelled within 90 days. At the time, Uganda's Asian population was mostly made up of Muslims (including Ismailis) and Hindus from the Indian states of Gujarat and Kutch, who had come to Africa during the British colonial era.

While the U.K. would absorb many of the refugees, the numbers were overwhelming and the British government appealed to Canada, as did the Aga Khan. While the opposition parties supported the move, the Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau briefly stalled as it considered public opposition to the acceptance of so many refugees (representing the first major resettlement effort for non-whites into Canada). Initially the government suggested that the claimants would have to gain entry through the formal immigration process. Under usual circumstances, the rigid Immigration Points System and sundry requirements (medical exams, for example) of the time would have made it near impossible for the refugees to gain entry. However, as conditions grew more desperate in Uganda, the Canadian government was decisive; an emergency airlift from Kampala of 4420 refugees was conducted between October and November 1972. Another 1278 Ugandan-Asians would enter in the early part of 1973, and by the end of that year some 7000 refugees had arrived.

On September 9, 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau addressed a crowd made up of various ethnic groups in Vancouver. He told them that Canada would have turned her back on everything she stands for if she had refused to take immigrants from Uganda.

trudeau

View an excerpt from CBC Television coverage of Trudeau's speech (1972) (runs 1:04)

Farm Forum

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | 11:32 AM ET

By Anu Sahota

On March 7, 2007, a crash on the Trans-Canada highway near Abbotsford, B.C. killed 3 Indo-Canadian farmworkers and injured a dozen other passengers (who ranged from teenagers to seniors). The overloaded van was on its way to a greenhouse in the Fraser Valley community of Chilliwack. It was (as almost all vans transporting farmworkers from home to work are) owned by a contractor and the deaths and injuries were attributed to the van's seats having been taken out and replaced with wooden benches. This particular employer was not unusual in having endangered so many lives as there is a long history in British Columbia (and the rest of Canada) of farmworker abuse by contractors and farm owners. Equally as long is the record of attempts to correct these injustices through labour activism.

Farmworkers are often referred to as Canada's forgotten workers, and certainly this is doubly so in the case of immigrant and migrant workers. A disproportionate number of the farmworkers in British Columbia's Fraser Valley are Indo-Canadian and many of them are from the Punjab, India's most fertile farming region. Countless Indo-Canadian immigrants have laboured in farms since Sikhs first arrived in B.C. in 1904. This is partly attributable to an established cultural knowledge of farming practices, though more so because opportunities for visible minority immigrants were, for a long time, limited to agricultural work such as farming and forestry. For many non-English speaking immigrants, farmwork generates critical cultural and social connections - connections which have often been essential to surviving working conditions. The changes to the Immigration Act which I wrote about last week meant that by the late 1970s, immigrants from India were arriving to Canada in record numbers - and the number of Indo-Canadian farmworkers in the Fraser Valley increased from less than 500 in 1970 to over 5000 in 1978.

Motivated by the success of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in California, the Canadian Farmworkers Union was established in 1980 with the aim of abolishing the contract labour system, a system which many believed perpetuated worker abuse. The list of grievances against the farming industry and provincial regulators was (and still is) lengthy: a need for minimum-wage and maximum hours rules; an end to discriminatory Unemployment Insurance regulations; laws to ensure overtime and statutory holiday pay; inspection of farm vehicles and equipment; access to a complaints process; protection against pesticides and so on. At the time the union was founded, allegations of physical and sexual abuse by contractors was not uncommon and the need for daycare was brought home by the deaths of several farmworkers' children. The Indian documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan documented these tragedies and the union's formation in his 1982 film A Time to Rise External Link

It was incidents like these and countless others that prompted Ujjal Dosanjh to establish the Farm Workers' Legal Information Service for janitorial, domestic and farmworkers in the 1970s and to become a founding member, along with Charan Gill, of the Canadian Farmworkers Union. Now a Member of Parliament for Vancouver South, Dosanjh was a lawyer at the time and was deeply involved with immigrant rights and services. In the following clips from an August 1983 segment on CBC Television's The Canadians, host Paul Winn reflects on Indo-Canadian history and speaks with Mr. Donsanjh and his wife Raminder about their involvement in immigrant issues as well as their own experiences as visible minorities in Canada.

farmers

View the first part of The Canadians (1983) (runs 2:37)


View the second part of The Canadians (1983) (runs 5:17)

For more information on farmworkers rights and issues, you can visit the B.C. Federation of Labour website External Link

A detailed history of the Canadian Farmworkers Union was written about in the 1995 publication ZINDABAD! and is available online External Link.

Sadly, accidents and deaths involving workers have continued and comprehensive legislation to protect their rights remains outstanding. In 2001, the B.C. government rescinded regulations enforcing inspections of farms and farm vehicles, as well as minimum-wage rules. In 2003, it excluded farmworkers from new labour laws outlining minimum and maximum work pay along with statutory holiday pay. Following the March 2007 deaths, British Columbia put forward new regulations to ensure increased vehicle safety for workers traveling to and from farms.

The Days before Yesterday

Friday, May 11, 2007 | 03:28 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

By the end of 2007, several seminal Canadian anniversaries will have passed - and I'm not talking about the 75th anniversary of the birth of Glenn Gould (though that's important too).

2007 will mark the 100th anniversary of the anti-Asiatic riot External Link in Vancouver's Chinatown; the 60th anniversary of Chinese and Indo-Canadians receiving full citizenship rights (Japanese would be granted franchise after the War Measures Act was lifted in 1948) as well as the overturn of the 1885 Chinese Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Continuous Journey Act; the 40th anniversary of revisions to the Immigration Act which allowed for greater migration of Asians to the Pacific; and the 10th anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to China - an event that brought a wave of immigrants from the Pacific Rim, along with an unprecedented economic investments in Canadian cities by Asian entrepreneurs.

In 1987, CBC news reflected on the 40th anniversary of the voting rights amendments

Though they did not have the right to vote in this country, over 500 Chinese-Canadians soldiers fought for Canada during World War Two (curiously, these soldiers were allowed to vote during the war if they were in uniform). In 1997, the CBC spoke with two veterans, Harry Ho and Roy Mah, about this fierce contradiction and their reasons for serving.


Roy Kiyooka

Thursday, May 10, 2007 | 08:48 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Japanese-Canadian artist Roy Kenzie Kiyooka was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1926, raised in Calgary and spent much of his career in Vancouver, where he took up a teaching position at the Vancouver School of Art in 1960. Kiyooka's work comprised abstract painting, poetry, sculpture, filmmaking, sound arts and photography. Though he would teach for brief periods across the country, Kiyooka would always return to Vancouver. There he established associations with countless artists and writers (such as Al Neil External Link and bill bissett External Link), beginning with his involvement in spoken word 'happenings' in the 1960s. Kiyooka proclaimed himself a member of the artist tribe and continually experimented with new and old media - making him a pioneer of multi-disciplinary art practices in Canada. In the 1980s, Kiyooka, along with fellow poets Roy Miki and Joy Kogawa, became involved with the Japanese Redress movement. External Link In 1978, he was awarded the Order of Canada. He passed away in 1994.

His writing includes the poetry collections Nevertheless These Eyes (1967), StoneDGloves (1970), transcanadaletters (1975), The Fontainebleau Dream Machine (1977) and The Pear Tree Pomes (1987). Like Takao Tanabe and David Suzuki, Kiyooka was a nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Canadian. The collection Kyoto Airs (1964) was written during his first visit to Japan in 1963. In many of these poems Kiyooka, who had been declared an Enemy Alien during he Second World War, wrote of his estrangement from the country that many in 1940s Canada would have preferred he be expatriated to:

I am among
them a tongue-
twisted alien
-from The Street

In February 2007, Vancouver New Music External Link announced that it would be a commissioning a set of performance pieces and conceptual sound compositions inspired by Kiyooka. The first of these will premiere in February 2008. In July 1967, Kiyooka joined several poets, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje among them, for a reading at Toronto's Parliament Street Library. Entitled Here and Now: New Poets with New Poems, the reading was filmed for the program Extensions. The host is Phyllis Webb, poet, broadcaster and co-creator of CBC Radio's Ideas. Much thanks to the Kiyooka Estate for permission to use this footage.

kiyooka

View Roy Kiyooka reading several of his poems (runs 5:49)

Brave Waves

Wednesday, May 9, 2007 | 06:36 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

During the 30th Parliament in 1974, the Trudeau government presented a Green Paper outlining revisions to the Immigration Act - the first major overhaul of the Act since 1952. The new Act was enacted in 1976 and came into practice in April 1978. It would replace a long-standing policy of discrimination that, in 1952, gave the Citizenship and Immigration Minister and officials considerable powers over selection, inarguably with the aim of limiting non-white immigration. The 1952 Immigration Act allowed Cabinet to restrict "the admission of persons by reason of such factors as nationality, ethnic group, occupation, lifestyle, unsuitability with regard to Canada's climate and perceived inability to become readily assimilated into Canadian society." As if these prohibitions weren't exhaustive enough, homosexuals and epileptics were added to this list. When the Green Paper was tabled in 1975 it touched off debates across the country on immigration. By 1979, as thousands of Vietnamese arrived in Canada under the refugee sponsorship program, many Canadians expressed concern that these refugees (along with the relatives they might sponsor) could not be suitably assimilated into Canadian society.

An anti-boat people contingent of the conservative lobby group, National Citizen's Coalition, campaigned for a caesura on sponsorships. In this September 1979 interview from CBC Radio's Sunday Morning, the Coalition's Director of Research questioned the government's refugee policy and seemed to echo the claims made by another critic that the country would soon be suffered from "ethnic indigestion."

The Immigration Act of 1978 resolved to correct these entry barriers in harmony with social and cultural goals which emphasized "family reunification, the fulfillment of Canada's international obligations in relation to the United Nations Convention (1951) and its 1967 Protocol relating to refugees." You can read more about the history of Canada's immigration policy at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada External Link website (from which I've taken these quotes).

On October 21, 1975, following public hearings across the country, a Special Joint Senate House of Commons Committee produced its response to the Green Paper. The working committee gave the Trudeau government the backing it needed to rewrite the Immigration Act. In this clip from the evening news, Brian Stewart provides a stand-up on the committee's report. Now Senior Correspondent on The National, Stewart was a national reporter in Ottawa in 1975 and the network's foreign affairs and military specialist.

immigrationbill

Watch CBC News (1975) (runs 2:21)

Yellow Fever

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | 09:59 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Toronto-born Rick Shiomi spent much of the 1970s and early 1980s involved in Vancouver's Asian-Canadian theatre scene. In 1983, his acclaimed first play Yellow Fever began its off-Broadway run and was later performed across North America.

The play follows Sam Shikaze, a private eye whose beat is Vancouver's Powell Street - once the residential and social centre of the city's Japanese community. In Yellow Fever, Shiomi plays off detective genre figures such as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, and his hero is as wise and whiskey-soaked as the lot. However, whereas classic noir very often suggested the mysterious Orient, its imaginary denizens and spaces, such as Chinatowns, in terms of peril and pathology, Shiomi's play upends this slant by normalizing its Asian characters and de-normalizing white society. Moreover, Sam Shikaze's monologues recall his community's history, not least their internment during the Second World War. Bogart's Marlowe, luckless as he was, could never have boasted such a tearjerker.

The interview below with Shiomi was conducted in October 1983 for the arts and culture program Vancouver Life, hosted by former CBC Chair and B.C.'s current Minister of Finance, Carole Taylor. I can tell you that I have watched a few episodes of Vancouver Life "as research" and my, Ms. Taylor really knew how to put together an ensemble. I wonder if the CBC budgeted for Halston gowns or if they were Taylor's own. Watch until the end to hear her announce an upcoming segment wherein Jackson Davies of the Beachcombers interviews Michael J. Fox. Wholly unrelated to Asian Heritage Month, so I'm afraid I can't include this folks.

yellowfever

vancouverlife

Thank-you to Rick Shiomi for permission to use this footage.

Watch the segment from Vancouver Life (1983) (runs 2:20)

Shouldn't Have Mentioned The War

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | 05:32 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Following the war, millions of Vietnamese fled their homeland for destinations around the world. Sadly, many would languish in refugee camps and overcrowded ships for years. Thousands of these "boat people" would end up in Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s following changes to the Immigration Act and the initiation of the refugee sponsorship program. In this episode of The Canadians from 1984, host Paul Winn speaks with Vietnamese-Canadian Nock Lee, who arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1980. Lee speaks about her family's evacuation from Saigon and her experiences adjusting to Canadian life as an immigrant woman.

vietnamese


View the segment from The Canadians (1984) (runs 6:07)

View a collection of segments from the CBC Archives on the refugee camps, Canada's refugee sponsorship program and the 1978 amendment to the Immigration Act.

Pearls of Wickedness

Monday, May 7, 2007 | 12:00 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Last week's entry on Takao Tanabe included mention of his internment in B.C.'s Slocan Valley during World War Two. Tanabe's family and many of the province's 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were interned there in the years following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbour. Long-standing resentment towards the Japanese, along with the fear that they represented a threat to Allied war efforts from within, gave way to flagrant racist hysteria. Ian McKenzie, a Federal Cabinet Minister from B.C., railed: "it is the government's plan to get these people out of B.C. as fast as possible. It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to see they never come back here. Let our slogan be for British Columbia: 'No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.'"

Japanese-Canadians across the country were fired and Japanese residents in B.C. were displaced to shanty towns in the province's interior. Their own homes would be auctioned off along with cars and all business properties, including fishing boats, by the Department of the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property. You can read more about this loathsome part of Asian Canadian history and its effect on a generation of Canadians here External Link

In 1944, CBC Radio's The World of Tomorrow spoke with John M. Ewing, psychology instructor at the B.C. Provincial Normal School about the Japanese Problem. For the record, while its name suggests electro-shock therapy and mind-control, the Normal School was a training institute that provided instruction on standard teaching practices - although after listening to Mr. Ewing you may prefer to believe the former.

suzuki
David Suzuki

Listen to the interview (runs (15:04)

Broadcaster, academic and environmentalist David Suzuki was also among the interned. In this CBC Radio interview from 1975 he describes life in an internment camp. The interviewer is former Pearson Cabinet member Judy LaMarsh. The program is This Country in the Morning.


listen to the interview (runs 21:08)

Takao Tanabe

Thursday, May 3, 2007 | 07:30 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

In December 1961, the weekly, half-hour arts and culture magazine Lively Arts aired a feature on West Coast painters Jack Shadbolt, E.J. Hughes, B.C. Binning, Gordon Smith and Takao Tanabe. The program explored the influence of British Columbia's physical environment and natural forms on their work. Tanabe was born in 1926 in Seal Cove (now part of Prince Rupert), British Columbia. During the Second World War, he was interned in the interior of the province with fellow Japanese-Canadians.

A student of abstract expressionism in his early years, Tanabe soon began to recognize the hard-edged aspects of his surrounding seas and skies. His canvasses so vividly capture the buttermilk tones and brooding horizons of their settings - whether it be the Prairies or the Cariboo - there can be little doubt the artist is married to Canadian environments.

And yet, unlike his contemporaries, Tanabe's heritage has routinely been invoked in discussions of his technique - an interpretation that Tanabe has long been underwhelmed by: "people say there is a Japanese influence in my work today but I don't believe it...I nod my head now because I'm too tired to argue, but I don't believe it." This question of whether there is an essentially Japanese aspect to his approach is one that Tanabe still dismisses. When I spoke to him earlier this week from his home on Vancouver Island, the 81-year old artist was amused that I had even considered him as a subject for Asian Heritage month. I dare say he bristled at the idea.

tanabe

tanabetwo

Watch Lively Arts (1961) (runs 4:14)


A more recent glimpse of Tanabe from 1996 features the artist at work in his Parksville studio. Also included is footage of an internment camp from the Slocan Valley where Tanabe was interned in 1942 (runs 1:34) <br />

Where do you come from?

Thursday, May 3, 2007 | 06:00 AM ET

By Anu Sahota

One question so often asked of immigrants, and indeed of many second and third generation Canadians is "where do you come from?" For those new Canadians who've spent considerable energies immigrating to a new land, the implication that home is inevitably elsewhere can be frustrating. Some years ago as I carried my laundry to my apartment an elderly woman stepping off the elevator exclaimed, "welcome to Canada!" Baffled (I was born and raised in Victoria, B.C.), I wondered what had given her the impression that I was in any way new to the country. After all, I had obviously been around long enough to accumulate laundry - not to mention acquire the cheek to wear a Margaret Trudeau-inspired bob with Neil Young-invoking flares.

In this clip from a September 1984 episode of The Canadians, a weekly program which profiled multicultural communities, host Paul Winn speaks with Philippino immigrant Leo Kunen who reflects on the first question he is always asked: "where do you come from?"

filipinos

Watch an excerpt from The Canadians (1984) (runs 5:12)

The End of East

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 | 09:52 PM ET

By Anu Sahota

Jen Sookfong Lee's debut novel The End of East (2007) follows three generations of a family in Vancouver's Chinatown. The novel explores themes of "isolation, immigration, romance and sanity through the eyes of its narrator, Sammy Chan, a Chinese-Canadian woman in her early 20s, and through the experiences of her parents and grandparents, which she creates through memory and fantasy."

Local memory is also a theme in Wai-Yee and Wah-Hon, a 1974 documentary presented by the Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia Departments of Education. The film follows a pair of Chinese-Canadian cousins who live in the Strathcona area of Vancouver that borders the city's Chinatown. As the children gather information for a school report on the neighbourhood, they speak with their parents and residents who relate its history though photographs and recollections of street life. Listen for a group of labourers identified as coolies External Link - an archaic term for indentured servants and, more generally, a pejorative for anyone of Asian descent.

Of course, thirty years on, the film is itself a remarkable document of the area In 1974, the mostly immigrant neighbourhood had only recently been saved from a brash 1960s civic redevelopment scheme. The proposal would have seen the area mostly demolished and rebuilt to accommodate a downtown peninsula freeway system. Undoubtedly, it would have all but obliterated the shops and back alleys Wai-Yee and Wah-Hon are shown in their father's photos and the public spaces the film privileges, for instance the park where the children play softball.

The freeway idea was abandoned after residents of Strathcona and Chinatown rallied against it and in 1971 the Province designated a number of properties, including ones in Chinatown, as historical sites. This, in the City's words, "was the only time the Provincial Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act was used to protect an entire historic district in an urban environment."

chinatown


Watch Wai-Yee and Wah-Hon (1974) (runs 10:18)

Welcome to the CBC Asian Heritage Archives blog 2007

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 | 09:24 AM ET

By Anu Sahota

Today, Tuesday May 1st, marks the beginning of Asian Heritage Month and the first entry of the CBC Archives blog 2007. Throughout the month this site will feature excerpts from CBC Radio and Television programs of the past with the aim of complementing the many AHM events scheduled across the country.


butterfly

Considering my last blog, a personal one, mostly featured pictures of Studs Terkel and bakelite radios, I am thrilled to be presenting moving media - the bulk of which has not been seen or heard for years. To this end, I invite you to examine and reflect on how the CBC has represented Asian Canadian history and experiences in decades past.

The inaugural clip I have chosen is taken from a September 1958 episode of the national documentary show Here and There. Our hero is Darshan Singh Gill, a young Sikh newly arrived from the Punjab who takes his first steps in adjusting to Canadian life amid Victoria B.C.'s Sikh community.
A quota on Indian immigration until the 1960s meant that South Asian communities in Canada were relatively small, and as a result, closely-knit. With little knowledge of English, Darshan must rely on the social ties already established by friends and family as he searches for employment at plywood mills and logging camps.

If you are wondering why his prospects are mostly limited to labour jobs consider the comments of the two, as the narrator puts it, "pale complexion strangers" at the counter upon his arrival at Patricia Bay airport. As Darshan passes by, the one fellow queries, "Hindoo?" The long held assumption that all Indian immigrants were Hindoos hints at the barriers that would have prevented an Indian immigrant from accessing the strata of Garden City society in the 1950s. Stay tuned throughout the month to learn how Darshan gets on.

Darshan

Watch Here and There (1958) (runs 7:09)