More Canada: The Komagata Maru

Lest we assume that the US has a monopoly on discriminatory immigration policies in North America, let us remember our brothers to the north, and the way that they treated Indian immigrants in the previous century:

On May 23rd, 1914, the Komagata Maru entered Burrard Inlet carrying 
376 passengers looking forward to starting their lives in Canada. The 
ship and those on board arrived despite the recent introduction of 
Canada’s discriminatory Continuous Passage Regulation, a law that 
required immigrants to Canada to arrive by a single, direct journey 
from their country of origin. Because no direct route between the Dominion of Canada and British 
India existed, this policy was a roundabout means to exclude Indian 
immigration and preserve — in the words of a popular song of the 
time — “White Canada forever.”

Like the Canadians on shore, all Komagata Maru passengers were 
subjects of the British Empire and many had fought for Britain, upholding the very freedoms they now desired. Upon arrival, the passengers were immediately detained by Canadian immigration authorities determined to keep the ship at anchor. Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet became the 
flashpoint for a standoff that gained international attention.

Their inability to land caused hardship for the passengers, who soon 
lacked food and water. The passengers were also denied access to 
medical attention, communication with their family and proper legal 
counsel. Their challenge to Canada’s right to deny their landing was 
delayed and eventually denied. On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru 
passengers were forced to leave Canada.

– From

Out of the Archives: Your Canadian Side

Asian American genealogy is difficult. My experience is mainly with Chinese American genealogy, so I’ll start there. As Chinese Americans immigrated, their names were changed to approximately English phonetics. Or they immigrated under false names, like the paper sons. Or the records were lost in the San Francisco fire, or the Chinese Revolution. Family records were destroyed in the 1950’s as the US government scoured Chinatowns for communist sympathizers.

Asian American genealogy is difficult, but not impossible. For some Chinese Americans, the Canadian government is here to help. The Library and Archives Canada have digitized a good number of immigration records through something they call Ancestor Search. To search for a Chinese Canadian, you can use their special database, aptly called “Immigrants from China, 1885-1949”.

Less genealogical, bust still wonderful is their digital image archive. A search for “Chinese” or “Chinois” brings up pages and pages of picture, like this orpailleur Chinois, vers 1875:


Chinese man panning for gold

Bilingual equivalent: Chinese man washing gold

Date(s): Vers 1875

Place: Rivière Fraser, C.-B.

Place of creation: No place, unknown, or undetermined

Extent1 photograph

Graphic (photo)
90: Open
Graphic (photo)
Copy negative PA-125990
90: Open
Item no. (creator)
Graphic (photo)
90: Open
90: Open
Other accession no.
1981-219 NPC

Terms of use: Mention : Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / PA-125990; Restrictions on use: Aucune; Droit d’auteur : Expiré

Additional name(s): Photographer: Inconnu.

Additional information: Described by the MSTRCAGE project.

Signatures and inscriptions: (Recto:) — /(Verso:) Chinese Man washing gold Fraser River.


Diverse Characters, Universal Themes

Have you been tracking the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign? The hashtag and the Tumblr are lively places to find books withe diverse characters and authors as well as heart felt pleas for more. Back in the beginning of May, when the hashtag started, I had reactions similar to many of the people who use it:

  1. I don’t see many people like me in literature.
  2. I’d like more characters that represent a race/history/culture like mine because I want characters I can really relate to.

Statement 1 is certainly true. Asian Americans? Asian American women? Mixed-race Asian American women? Mixed-race Asian American women in their late-mid-twenties? What if we add in my geographic location, relationship status, or current proclivity towards home manicures?

This brings me to statement 2. I can relate to characters who aren’t like me. Who are of a different age/era/race/gender/planet than I am. Given the veracity of statement 1, I relate to characters unlike me on a regular basis.

This brings me to a different set of statements. I’m calling them the diverse-characters-universal-themes-statements:

  1. I like reading about diverse characters because it allows me to step into someone else’s world/view.
  2. I believe that reading about diverse characters encourages me to forge connections with real diverse people. And I believe that’s something that people could use more of.
  3. I believe that in the specificity of situations, we find universal themes.

Thank you to Sara Farizan, whose book “If You Could Be Mine” I was reading while thinking about this. Reading about a young girl living in Iran, her own relationships intersecting with different parts of the LGBTQ community there made me think about my own experiences between LGBTQ communities and conservative Christian communities in the US. It’s not about sticking to sameness, but finding common ground. I want so many diverse characters represented in literature that their stories become about how all the facets of their identity are important, not just their race or sexuality.

UpDate: Iron Road Screening

Boston Screening of

Iron Road


Thursday, May 15, 2014

7:00 pm

The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University

525 Washington St.

Boston, MA  02111


A story of disguise and forbidden love, set against the building of the railroad


Dir. David Wu | Canada | 2009 | 95 min | Drama

Starring Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Sun Li, Luke MacFarlane, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Kenneth Mitchell, Gau Yun Xiang. Producers, Raymond Massey, Anne Tait,Arnie Zipursky, Barry Pearson


Iron Road follows the journey of Little Tiger (Sun Li), a child whose quest for her long-lost father takes her from a fireworks factory in China to a remote construction camp in the Rockies. Lured by the myth of ‘Gum San’ – Gold Mountain – she and her countrymen travels to Canada by the thousands to do the back-breaking work of blasting through the mountains to lay track. She soon learns that railroads only bring fortune to the few and that every mile of track is purchased with fear and death. As treachery and prejudice threaten her, Little Tiger must use her wits and courage to fulfill her quest and honor her friends who died in this foreign land.


This screening honors the 145th anniversary of the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad.  A conversation with Ronald Eng Young, grandson of a Chinese railroad worker, follows the screening.



$8 General Admission

$5 Students with ID

Free for AARW & CHSNE Members

Free for Suffolk Students & Faculty with ID

Purchase tickets at:


Presented by the Boston Asian American Film Festival

Co-presented by the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE), Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies/Suffolk University, and Bridgewater State University


APA May Round Up

It’s almost May! And that means its almost Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! What’s good this month?



  1. The Smithsonian APA Center has things going on, of course. I’m most excited to  commemorate the completion of the transcontinental railroad May 10 by joining their APA Wikipedia edit-a-thon because I like my secondary research. If you’re more on the content creation than the content curation side of things, maybe you’ll be more interested in joining A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America. Same day, but you record a snapshot of your APA reality and it becomes part of a larger curated exhibit.
  2. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks group is hosting social medical events May 1, 2, and 3 to talk about why we need diverse books. They cover a range of diverse identities and embodiments beyond APA (i.e. why its so important to have deaf characters in books), but it’s great timing, no? Head to their Tumblr to coordinate your content with theirs across Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook.
  3. Less than 3% of historic sites represent diversity of American history. You can help save one! Huntington Beach, CA is deciding what to do with a group of Japanese American pioneer buildings, including the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.


In Boston

  1. Watch Boston’s only female Taiko drum corps at the Brookline Matsuri Festival on Saturday May 10. The Genki Spark aims to promote and support the voice and visibility of Asian women while advocating respect for all. In addition to their performance, you can expect several other taiko groups, plenty of food, and kid friendly activities. This is definitely the “heritage” part of the month.
  2. Watch Iron Road with the Boston Asian American Film Festival. It’s the story of a  poor but feisty Chinese woman, disguised as a boy, joins the railroad crew in the Rocky Mountains to search for her long-lost father, and falls in love with the son of the railroad tycoon. If an Asian woman falling in love with a white man who’s part of the community exploiting her people sounds problematic, there’s only one way to confirm– watching it. (That’s actually a terrible argument.) Time and place TBA.


In Other Places

  1. The LA Asian Film Festival is May 1-11, 2014. As usual, there’s a mix of domestic and international films meant to remember, honor, inspire, and entertain.


Get pumped.


A Wicked Local Story– The Chinese American Minute Man

When I think Lexington, I think of the crazily dedicated guys dressing up and reenacting revolutionary battles, you know, like the battle of Lexington. Not that I went to watch them, but I pictured a field of Benjamin Franklin reenactors running at each other with fake muskets and blunted bayonets. So I totally admit, when I saw a headline for a Chinese American reenactor my first though was “Hey, I wonder if I  know him? Because then the only Minute Man I know would be an Asian American one!”


Mourn the day, I do not know Henry Liu. Still, his story on PRI is a pretty cute story about a history buff who dresses up like a colonial captain. Here’s a guy who thought that a group of guys playing colonial dress up wouldn’t want him because a Chinese guy wouldn’t look very historical. But then they totally did! Because inclusion shouldn’t be a big deal.

Expanding the Archive

Last year, I spent the month of May highlighting Asian American archival collections. I found a lot of very, very cool material, but I also found some very, very large holes in the historical record. How can we study our history if we don’t preserve it? Luckily, the University of Illinois at Chicago is taking action to address some of the missing material– they’re currently in the process of building up an Asian American LGBTQ archive! I cannot stress enough how important it is to be proactive in preserving historical materials. Our lives, no matter who we are, are historical. We represent communities, movements and moments that will become history. And if we don’t value the records of our lives and times, it will be that much harder to recover. What can you do?


Read more about the project or contact UIC to donate materials (call (312) 413-7696 or email or