July 1st – Thoughts on Chinatowns and Dominions – By an Apihkês

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*In Cree, apihkês ᐊᐱᐦᑫᐢ NA Chinese person; spider (CW); sekipatwâw pl. sekipatwâwak ᓭᑭᐸᑖᐧᐤ VAI S/he has braids (often used to identify a person of Chinese descent.) (AE) – This word was shared with me by a friend, Les Skinner, who teaches Cree. He told me this is because spiders weave webs, and Chinese people weave braids, so they are like spiders. We figured this means the term came about from interactions between Cree and Chinese people when Chinese were building the railroad, because they wore braids then, during the time of the Tang Dynasty.

Today, July 1st,  I am proud to be part of Edmonton’s first Heritage Chinatown Night Market , right in the heart/心 of Chinatown/舊唐人街. The street will come alive just inside Harbin Gate, which was recently featured on a set of commemorative postage stamps. On 102 Avenue, between 95th and 96th Street, there will be vendors, artists, performers. Food will be sold by the Lingnan, Edmonton’s oldest Chinese restaurant, started by the Quon family in 1947. Activity will fill the street in front of the Edmonton Chinatown Multicultural Centre, the Chinese Elders Mansion, and the Toishan, Kaiping, Lee and Chow societies where the proposed southeast LRT will soon run through. We will be just steps away from the river valley, that shares with us its indigenous history.

I am proud to be part of this night market. This pride is not easy to come by.

July 1st is a day that has shaped Chinatown here, and Chinatowns across Canada/加拿大.

On Dominion Day, July 1, 1923, the federal government established the Chinese Immigration Act, known by many as the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively closing off Chinese immigration to Canada. The Act banned Chinese immigrants from entering Canada except merchants, diplomats, and foreign students. Not only were Chinese from China banned, ethnic Chinese with British nationality were also restricted from entering Canada. Chinese-Canadians at the time referred to the anniversary of Confederation as “Humiliation Day”, and to protest The Chinese Exclusion Act, they closed their businesses and boycotted Dominion Day celebrations every July 1. Like their contemporaries, Edmonton Chinese ceased to participate in Dominion Day celebrations. (http://www.library.ubc.ca/chineseinbc/exclusion.html)

It was not until 1947 that Canada finally repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Chinese-Canadians were granted the right to vote in federal elections. However, it took another twenty years until the points system was adopted for selecting immigrants in 1967 that the Chinese could be admitted under the same criteria as any other applicants.

July 1st also marks the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, former British colony, to Chinese rule, ending more than 150 years of British administration. Unsure of what this would bring, many Hong Kong Chinese immigrated here around this time. Today in Hong Kong, as has happened every year since 1997, protestors filled the streets to demand democracy and universal suffrage, and other political changes including freedom of the press and poverty alleviation.

This July 1st, I hope we can look backwards, and honour the past, so that we can look forwards and envision a future with less darkness and more light.

Other Sources:

http://www.library.ubc.ca/chineseinbc/exclusion.html

“Edmonton Chinatowns 1900-2013”, Canada Chinatown Series, David Chuenyan Lai and Brian Evans, Simon Fraser University, David See-Chai Lam Centre for International Communication.

http://www.roadtojustice.ca/home

http://web.uvic.ca/lancenrd/AViewofVictoria/chinatown/chinatown.php

http://www.edmontonheritage.ca/go/herzog-on-heritage/edmontons-lost-laundries/

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/06/03/dueling-visions-for-the-lrt-in-chinatown

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