The Senate of Canada is not known for hosting spoken-word and ballet performances. But Friday (June 23), artist, writer and poet Christopher Tse and dancers from Goh Ballet will be part of a two-hour National Remembrance Event in the building. It is to commemorate the centenary of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
It comes 100 years after the federal government banned virtually all Chinese immigration. This followed earlier and severe restrictions on Asian immigration. These included a $500 head tax (equivalent to two years’ of wages back then) on Chinese migrants; harsh limits on Japanese immigration; and a refusal to allow people to come from other parts of the continent, including South Asia, if they didn’t arrive via a “continuous journey”.
The Chinese Immigration Act—also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act—took effect on July 1, 1923. Canada’s second national minority government, headed by then Liberal prime minister Mackenzie King, passed the legislation.
It required people of Chinese ancestry in Canada, including Canadian-born residents, to register with the federal government. The act wasn’t repealed until 1947, resulting in families being torn apart for decades.
At today’s event, a plaque will be unveiled in the Senate. That will come after a land acknowledgement, Indigenous blessing, and remarks by Gov.-Gen. Mary Simon, Senate Speaker Raymonde Gagné, and International Trade Minister Mary Ng.
Goh Ballet highlights struggle and triumph
The artistic component will begin with Goh Ballet presenting a new work, Pathways to the Future, composed by Jin Zhang.
In an interview with CBC Radio One journalist Vivian Luk on The Early Edition, Goh Ballet director Chan Hon Goh said that the composer created three parts, which he describes as “water”, “fire”, and “triumph and hope”.
This reflects the arc of Chinese immigration to Canada in history—arriving across the Pacific Ocean by boat with optimism; facing intense struggles and the fight to make a living, yet not quitting; and, finally, triumphing by establishing themselves in a new country with great hope for the future.
Goh revealed in the interview that her father, Choo Chiat Goh, interjected some Chinese movements into the piece as a choreographic adviser.
At the conclusion of Pathways to the Future, four dignitaries will offer remarks: Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, H.Y. Louie Co. president and CEO Brandt Louie, former senator Vivienne Poy, and Sen. Victor Oh.
That will be followed by the “Never Forget July 1” song, performed by the National Remembrance Ceremony Choir. Then Citizenship Judge Albert Wong will share “Stories of Resilience”. Wong chairs the National Remembrance Organizing Committee.
Watch Chris Tse perform in Whitehorse in December 2021.
Senate hosts spoken-word artistry
Next up will be spoken-work artist and UVic alumnus Christopher Tse. A resident off Whitehorse, Tse is keenly interested in decolonial futures and pan-racial solidarities.
ACCT Foundation chair Teresa Woo Paw will offer closing remarks. Then Goh Ballet will present a second original piece, Unspoken, which will not be accompanied by any music.
“In many ways, the unspoken is even more powerful than the spoken,” Goh told Luk on CBC Radio One.
The event will conclude with the singing of the national anthem, followed by a reception.