Growing up in Vancouver's Chinatown, Paul Yee wasn't a big fan of history. He didn't know much about the thousands of Chinese workers who built British Columbia's railroad, even though they had also built his neighbourhood after the work was done (if they managed to survive the gruelling and dangerous job). And he didn't see why he should.
But all that changed after high school, at a conference on Chinese-Canadian identity, when someone mentioned the Chinese rail workers.
"I blurted out, 'Why would you want to talk about them?'" Yee told The Next Chapter's host Shelagh Rogers.
According to Yee, the silence in the room was palpable and excruciating. Even he couldn't believe he'd said it.
"I was just thunderstruck at myself," Yee said. "I had no idea where this had come from. I felt that I had been brainwashed all my life to have this really negative view of my own history."
That got him thinking. Yee knew he had to come to a better understanding of his past. Now, he's bringing that understanding to a new generation of Canadians.
Yee's new book, Blood and Iron, brings to life the world of the Chinese labourers in B.C. at the turn of the 20th century. It's aimed at young adults, and is told from the point of view of a 14-year-old Chinese boy who travels to B.C. with his father. The book is a part of Scholastic's Dear Canada series, which aims to engage young readers with Canadian history, and Yee doesn't hold back in his descriptions of the arduous work and shocking death toll.
According to Yee, Blood and Iron isn't just a book about the history of Chinese-Canadians. It's also about being Chinese-Canadian today.
"The Chinese here are a racial minority," Yee explained. "We stand out no matter if we've been here one generation or five or six or seven. So we belong to a community whether we like it or not, whether we choose it or not. And books about the community merely add another dimension to it."
Blood and Iron
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From Quill & Quire:
"When Scholastic's Dear Canada series began in 2001, its aim was to engage young female readers with Canadian history while providing useful resources for teachers and librarians. In the books, written in the form of fictional diaries, well-known Canadian writers like Jean Little and Kit Pearson examine pivotal historical events such as the Halifax Explosion or the Underground Railroad through the eyes of young girls. It worked: over the past decade, the series has drawn readers and awards from coast to coast ..."Read the full review