Chinese-Canadians, allies and supporters in Halifax joined people across Canada on Friday to recognize the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a discriminatory policy that specifically targeted Chinese immigrants and almost completely barred them from entering Canada, leading to the separation of numerous Chinese families.
The national event was live-streamed from the Senate Chambers in Ottawa with local events across the country, including the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Halifax Central Library.
“I think it’s very special for the first-generation Chinese Canadians like myself to learn more about the history of our ancestors – what kind of challenges they faced and how they fought for their rights, so today we are able to enjoy a more just environment,” said Christine Qin Yang, a member of the National Remembrance Ceremony Organizing Committee and a director of the Action Chinese Canadians Together foundation.
July 1 – Canada Day – marks the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Chinese community refers to this day as “Humiliation Day”, with many subsequently refusing to celebrate Canada Day, people at the event were told.
Albert Lee, a Chinese-Canadian photographer, journalist and historian spoke at the Halifax event, explaining how the Act hurt Chinese families over the past century.
For example, Lee’s father arrived in Halifax when he was nine years old. When he was 18, he returned to China to marry, but his wife was barred from entering Canada under the Act.
As a result, Lee’s mother and sister were separated from his father for 15 years, and Lee’s sister didn’t see her father until the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted in 1948 when she was 15 years old.“And they suffered. They couldn’t buy food,” Lee said, “And you’ll find a lot of families that came here …have a similar story.”
In an interview, Lee also spoke about the 1919 anti-Chinese riots in Halifax, which saw two nights of escalating riots fueled by discrimination based on the perception of the Chinese as a labour threat.
“There are some Chinese restaurants that had the windows destroyed and the first early laundries were discriminated against as they saw them as a threat,” Lee said.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage’s proclamation about the 100th anniversary of the Act mentioned the 1919 anti-Chinese Riot as well.
Shelby Kennedy, programming and events specialist in the Halifax Central Library, said preparations for the 100th anniversary event activities gave her the opportunity to learn more about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the history of the Chinese community in Halifax.
“I really wanted to be able to pull lots of different materials to create a display. I was surprised to find that we didn’t have as much as I wanted. So, I think that we have some work to do as a library, as a community,” Kennedy said, “So I’m glad that we get the opportunity to host this event and to make those connections and to learn a little bit more about our own community.”
Kennedy’s mother is Indigenous from Dakota Territory. “I think it’s amazing that we have this connection between the Chinese community and the Indigenous community. There are so many interesting shared experiences between these two communities that I think that there’s a lot of solidarity there. I hope that there can be a strong connection there in the future,” Kennedy said.
Xixi Jiang is a third-year journalism student at the University of King's College in Halifax. She's from China and is passionate about writing news stories related to immigration, international students, women's rights, and anti-racism.