Chinese Minority and Everyday Racism in Canadian Towns and Small Cities: An Ethnic Study of the Case of Peterborough, Ontario, 1892-1951

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This paper broadens ethnic studies of the Chinese in Canada from the context of large cities to that of towns and small cities like Peterborough, Ontario. It also expands the analytical focus from the anti-Chinese prejudices, policies, and other forms of institutional racism to the everyday racism that fused such racist ideologies and institutional forces into routine and recurrent practices against the Chinese in the daily life of Peterborough before 1951. In this small urban community, Chinese immigrants coped with everyday discrimination not simply through the passive or militant responses discussed in previous studies, but also by defending their rights and counterattacking racism using Canadian institutions (courts, churches, and local media). The paper describes how these experiences led to significant changes in their ethnicity.

Cet article augmente les etudes ethniques des Chinois au Canada du contexte des grandes villes jusqu'a celle des villages et des petites villes comme Peterborough, Ontario. Il augmente egalement le foyer analytique de l'etude des prejudices and des politiques anti-Chinois, et d'autres formes de racisme institutionnel, a l'etude du racisme ordinaire, qui a fusionne de telles ideologies racistes et forces institutionnelles avec des pratiques courantes et recurrentes contre les Chinois dans la vie quotidienne des residants de Peterborough avant 1951. Dans cette petite communaute urbaine, les immigres chinois ont fait face a la discrimination ordinaire pas simplement en utilisant les reponses passives ou militantes discutees dans les literatures precedents. Ils ont egalement defendu leurs droits et ont attaque le racisme en employant les etablissements canadiens, y compris des cours, des eglises et des medias locaux. Certaines de leurs batailles legales ont reussies. En particulier, leurs contacts journalieres avec les personnes blanches ont mene a leurs relations amicales avec eux, et aussi aux changements cruciaux a leur appartenance ethnique.


In an immigrant country such as Canada, ethnic minorities and their relations with the majority group are central themes in its national history. Nevertheless, ethnic studies of the Chinese in Canada have usually centered on British Columbia and a few large cities in other provinces. The Chinese as a racial minority and their ethnic relations with the white majority in small urban communities outside British Columbia have not received much academic scrutiny. (1) The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to extend ethnic studies of the Chinese experience in Canada from the context of large cities to that of towns and small cities like Peterborough, Ontario. An additional objective is to compare the experience of the Chinese in this eastern Canadian community with that of their more thoroughly researched counterparts on the Pacific Coast.

Previous writings revealed popular attitudes and political policies against the Chinese in Canada, especially institutional racism imposed and sustained by the state and other institutional forces before the mid-twentieth century (Ward 1978: Roy 1989; Li 1998). Such studies have focused on the passive responses of the Chinese in their aversive efforts to build Chinatowns as residential ghettos and develop ethnic businesses as occupational enclaves (Anderson 1991; Chan 1983, 49, 68-73, 137-144; Chan and Lam 1986, 579; Lai 1988, 34-35). Some have also highlighted their largely ineffective legal battles, their organized strikes, and other forms of militant resistance to racism (Backhouse 1999, 132-172; Creese 1987, 38-43; Tan 1987, 80-85; Walker 1997, 87-121; Wickberg et al. 1982, 50, 121-131).

This paper expands the analytical focus of racism to examine the everyday racism that fused the aforementioned racist ideologies and institutional forces into routine and recurrent practices before 1951, and actualized the unequal relations between the Chinese and the white majority in the daily life of Peterborough residents. …


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