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

By Lisa Rose Mar | Go to book overview

Conclusion

THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE Exclusion Era was far more integrated than scholars presume. Chinese immigrant power brokers mitigated even the most direct processes of exclusion. Interpreters collaborated with ruling party machines to foil anti-Chinese laws. Chinese Canadians embraced Canada’s legal system, seeing its rule of law as crucial to defending their interests in both internal and external conflicts. Their informal advocates, Chinese legal interpreters, gave the larger legal culture an unofficial, and often recognized, multicultural dimension. In addition to the legal experts, thousands of ordinary Chinese Canadians sought political power in Canada through modern social movements. Their boycott of the public schools to protest segregation built on Pacific world protests against the British Empire’s colonialism, while also advancing an emergent Canadian–U.S. discourse of cultural pluralism more accepting of non-Anglo immigrants. In these ways, Chinese Canadians helped to create their own myths. The selective story that brokers gave to the Survey of Race Relations in 1924 later became popularized in U.S. and Canadian culture as the natural, inevitable trajectory of all immigrant groups. Thus, Chinese brokers helped to shape the myth of Asians as a model minority, a popular concept that continues to have great influence in Canada and the United States today.

Canada’s official ideal of immigration—assimilation and settlement— coexisted awkwardly with Chinese Canadians’ transnational way of life. During the Second World War, Canadian war policies forced Chinese workers, whether legal or illegal, to confront the state’s unease with their transnational existence. The successful public stand of the Chinese marked a new epoch in

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