“The Dichotomy of Identity: Jim Wong-Chu”

Apr. 13, 2016 – The Georgia Straight (Video)

Asian-Canadian literature pioneer talks about the ongoing struggle of identity in this short-doc

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For minorities in North America, the divide between racial identity and cultural identity has always been an issue. What makes someone Canadian (or American)? What does it mean for someone to feel out of place in a country that he or she should consider home?

In this Straight short-doc, Vancouver poet, author, and editor Jim Wong-Chu explains how the experience of alienation is much stronger for those who were born into a Canadian minority community than for those who have immigrated here.

“[For immigrants], you happen to be in Canada, you grow up in here and you’re making it the best you can,” he says in the documentary, while not discounting the challenges of his own experience of growing up as an immigrant in Canada during the 1960s. “Or you’re born here, and you’ve never been to China, Asia, or your homeland, and you’re forced to accept the fact that you’re Chinese in the context of being in Canada.”

In regards to reconciling one’s racial identity and one’s cultural identity, Wong-Chu says, “For those people, it’s always been a struggle.” The hyphen in the term Asian-Canadian connotes a link, but also a sense of limbo. Of “otherness”.

According to an article in the Calgary Herald, otherness is an issue that still lingers among many people of colour. While Canada is considered a cultural mosaic, and its current policies value multiculturalism, the idea of who is and isn’t a true Canadian still exist, according to Amal Madibbo, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Calgary.

For Asian-Canadians, which represent 15.3 per cent (2011) of Canada’s population, that sense of displacement is shared by many people who are first-, second-, and third-generation citizens.

ON THE IDEA OF “OTHERNESS”

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Canada widened the crack in its door for immigrants of colour.

Until then, the preferred Canadian, according to then–Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton (who held office from 1896 to 1905), was from the United States or from western, northern, or central Europe. Even in the 1950s, with the Immigration Act (1952), prospective Canadians could be could be denied entry on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity, or even their ability to assimilate.

“When Canada opened its doors to immigrants, historically, even its policies first preferred the western Europeans and white Americans…on the bottom of the scale were the Asians and the Blacks, who were considered as undesired future citizens,” says University of Calgary sociology professor Amal Madibbo, quoted in theCalgary Herald.

Even decades later, such actions have lasting effects on many Canadians belonging to visible minorities. Why? According to Madibbo, cultural bias can still be found in media, education, and one’s own environment.

“They are still considered as ‘others,’ and these perceptions still continue to exist because people are still using these ideas,” Madibbo says.

“We get our signals, our social signals through mass media, like it or not,” Ben Wong, a Canadian actor, laments in the short-doc Minority Rapport: Standing Out. “When this notion of otherness comes out in the images we see on TV shows, in movies, it is systemic.”

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