Inheriting Resistance Update

Posted by admin on Oct 9th, 2012

No One Is Illegal Vancouver Coast Salish Territories “Inheriting Resistance: A Community History Project” came about in light of the recent passing of beloved elders and community members Phillipa Ryan and Hari Sharma. Their life and work has taught and inspired many of us in the NOII collective, as well as many individuals within the broader community. We are reminded of the stories and lessons which remain to be shared and learned from in order to create a meaningful intergenerational movement.

Over the next year, NOII will be continuing to document the untold stories of people in our communities who have been involved in and who have shaped a diversity of social justice struggles on unceded Coast Salish Territories over the past 20-40 years. We will be interviewing 10-12 people and will be posting shorter, edited videos and transcripts of interviews throughout the year. In 2013, we will be launching a booklet with compiled archival material as well as the full-length video interviews.

The project is based on a deep desire held by many of us as young activists to learn more about the history of our movements (anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-racist, Indigenous, labour, queer, anti-imperialist, feminist and migrant justice) and to directly learn from those people who have paved the path of resistance for our generations. We acknowledge that this project is one small part of centering the perspective and wisdom of older activists, organizers, and revolutionaries, and that unfortunately we will be unable to interview as many people as we would like to.

One of the people we have already interviewed is Sid Chow Tan. Sid Tan was born in China in 1949 and immigrated to Canada in 1950 with his grandmother, following the repeal of Chinese exclusion. Sid was raised on Main Street in Battleford Saskatchewan, is a graduate of the University of Calgary, and has resided for over thirty-five years in Saltwater City Vancouver.

In our interview with Sid he told us about growing up the youngest in the only Chinese family in town. “I was illegal in this country. When I arrived in this country I arrived as an illegal immigrant. As I got older I recognized that my brother (my adopted brother) and I could be deported at any time. This after our family had been in North America since the advent of the California Gold Rush in 1849. And yet it is only my children, who were born in 1973 and 1975, who are the first in our family to be born in North America. That is after 100 odd years.”

As soon as the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, the Canadian government tried to restrict the immigration of Chinese. In 1885, the first Chinese Head Tax was imposed and Chinese were denied citizenship.Canada collected over $23 million from about 81,000 head tax payers. In 1923, Canada passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Passed on July 1, this day has come to be known as Chinese Humiliation Day. Between 1923 and 1947, less than 50 Chinese were allowed to come to Canada.

According to Sid “That tells you what exclusion and Head Tax and racist immigration policies can do. My grandparents suffered that. My grandmother and grandfather were separated from 25 years by a racist law. My
grandfather paid a headtax which was the equivalent of two houses when he came here. You could buy two houses for $500.”

In 2006, the Canadian government offered an apology and compensation for the Head Tax to survivors and spouses only. A total of 785 eligible applicants have received symbolic payments of $20,000 each. They represent 0.05% percent of all affected Head Tax families. Sid and the Head Tax Families Society of Canada are continuing to campaign for inclusive redress based on “one certificate, one claim”.

Sid told us how about how his politics is informed by a life of anti-racism and social justice activism, occasionally resulting in civil disobedience and arrest. “As I got involved in these issues, these issues changed my life.” Sid has put in over two decades of work in redress for the Chinese head tax and exclusion laws and has also dedicated his time to community media and a myriad of human and environmental rights issues.

Sid is a father to an adult son and daughter and is a grandfather. He told us that his favourite saying is “My art is activism. My trade is organising.”

No One Is Illegal is committed to honouring the legacy of those who have struggled before us – and in many cases, who still continue to struggle alongside us – for social, economic, political, and environmental justice. Together, we envision a humanity where everyone has the right to sustenance and the ability to provide it, where we are free of oppression, and are able to live meaningfully in relationship to one another and in reverence for Mother Earth that sustains us.

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