Asian Heritage Month – Yin Wong shares how her ancestors paved the way for her dreams today
Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible achievements and contributions of Canadians of Asian descent who, throughout our history, have and continue to help make Canada the country it is today.
For so many Canadians, like Yin Wong, Credit Analyst at Rogers Sports & Media, this month is an important reminder of how far we’ve come and the work that still needs to be done.
Today, Yin shares her family’s deep roots in Canada spanning generations, the challenges they’ve faced and how their resilience has manifested in the life she’s built for herself and her family.
Your family has deep roots in Canada dating back to the 1800s, tell us about their experiences.
My 2x Great Grandfather came to Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway after the 1871 Confederation. Like many Chinese workers, he was paid $1.00 a day, whereas Caucasian workers were paid $1.50 – $2.00. He along with the other Chinese workers were given the most dangerous tasks, such as working with explosives, and sadly he saw many of his friends die due to accidents, hypothermia, malnutrition, and illness.
Upon completion of the railway, many Chinese workers remained in Canada which prompted the federal government to pass the Chinese Immigration Act, Act (also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act) on July 20th 1885. This meant every person of Chinese origin immigrating to Canada had to pay a fee of $50, called a head tax.
In 1913, Hui Sim Wong, my great grandfather made the arduous journey to Canada. He wanted to create a new life in Canada with the hopes that one day, his descendants would be afforded the opportunities he felt were out of his reach.
In 1921, the Head Tax amount was $500.00 (equivalent to $11,000.00 today.) My great grandfather brought his son, Sin Let Wong, my grandfather who was 14 at the time to Canada. They made the journey by boat and arrived in Vancouver. They travelled east, eventually settling in Coaticook, Quebec. My grandfather later moved to Montreal where he lived and worked for the remainder of his life.
Your father moved to Canada to join his father as a young man. He’s opened up to you about what his experience was like early on in Canada. Can you tell us about those experiences and how they’ve impacted you and your outlook on life?
During my grandfather’s time, Chinese immigrants were prohibited from practicing professions such as law, medicine and accounting and were only permitted to work in the service trades like laundry shops, salmon processing, sawmills and canneries.
When my father arrived in Canada, he had a lot of dreams and wanted to explore as many opportunities his new home could offer.
However, due to my grandfather’s experiences in the work force, he instilled in my father that it was unlikely he would reach his dreams, telling him no one would hire a Chinese employee to work in a white-collar profession. Disappointed, my father listened to his father and diligently worked in the restaurant industry up until his retirement.
In spite of being told to divert his dreams, my father never allowed my sister and I to give up on our own. He was our loudest cheerleader and biggest supporter.
When I got my start at Rogers, I worked at OMNI Television as a Traffic Coordinator, my father was so proud. Me, his little girl got a job at a nationally renowned company with benefits and a pension. It was beyond his wildest dreams.
When I eventually moved out, got married and started my own family, I’d meet up with my parents for lunch dates. My dad always had a look of pride even when I fumbled with my pass to exit the building. He once commented how wonderful it was to see so many cultures represented in our organization and I couldn’t agree with him more.
Why is this Asian Heritage Month an important moment of significance for you and your family this year?
Asian Heritage month has become increasingly important to me because I want my daughters to be proud of where they come from. I want to teach my children about the lived experiences, traumas and heartbreak of my family and others who bravely came to a new country with nothing but hope. It’s my responsibility as a mother to teach my children about the past, but to also give them hope about the future.
I always tell my daughters how much I love them and I want them to understand parents from all walks of life sometimes need to make choices and sacrifices that are not always ideal. We have the innate responsibility to give them all the opportunities we never had. We make sacrifices because we dare to dream. I will continue to be my children’s biggest advocate and strongest supporter, standing by them every step of the way.
If it were not for my ancestors I would not be where I am today. My girls and I are living our wildest dreams.