Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada's Exclusion Era, 1885-1945

By Lisa Rose Mar | Go to book overview

ONE
Negotiating Protection
Illegal Immigration and Party Machines

ONE OF THE MOST CURIOUS aspects of anti-Chinese policies was officials’ practice of hiring immigrant Chinese interpreters, thus foiling exclusionary laws. The clash of two titans, Yip On and David Lew, shows how political alliances across racial lines compromised enforcement of anti-Chinese immigration policies.1 Both leaders sought to control Vancouver’s Chinese immigration interpreter post. Like generals, they marched with powerful political machines. They battled from Ottawa’s halls to Vancouver’s backrooms. They attacked along fronts in Canada, the United States, and China. In 1910 and 1911, Lew’s efforts to reform Chinese immigration thrust the open secret of Chinese Canadian influence into the public eye. The resulting Royal Commission inquiry created a unique record of Canada’s unofficial political history. Through brokerage, Chinese immigrants who could not vote found ways of influencing policy; in an era of “white Canada” policies, they helped to make Canadian party politics covertly multicultural.

The study of interpreters and the politics through which they won, held, and lost their posts creates a new understanding of how immigration policy was made. As an ethnic collaborator, the interpreter engaged in policy making from a distinctive position. He had a duty to carry out the mandates of Parliament, but he gained political leadership from supporters who viewed anti-Chinese laws as illegitimate. On a daily basis, he had to reconcile national politics with ethnic community dynamics. Thus, the story of interpreters brings together these two often separate histories. While other studies

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