It’s with awe and wonder I reflect on the events of the past few weeks. Today I’d like to share stories from the opening of the Chinese Canadian Museum at Vancouver on 30 Jun 2023. This is my third post about the museum. If you’d like to see them in order, here is “Wing Sang: House of Memory,” (13 Feb 2022) and “Finding the story behind the story: why is there a school room at Wing Sang?” (9 Dec 2022).
As the music began, I was unexpectedly tearful. My dad should be here. I blinked away the tears behind my sunglasses. Looked at my sister sitting beside me. We were witnessing something historic and monumental. Let the festivities begin.
The new Chinese Canadian Museum opened on Friday, June thirtieth, on a beautiful spring day in Vancouver. The street had been closed and a stage built in front of the museum. Rows of black chairs were ranged around the stage. The media had an elevated platform at the back, a dozen TV cameras capturing the event. My sister, a born Vancouverite, instantly started scoping for good seats, but I said, “Wait. I think we might have seats already.” We Yip family invitees were honoured with the left front row.
[To see larger images, click on the pictures.]
You would think, surveying the sheer perfection of the scene, that Vancouver never rained, never experienced poverty or drought, never had cause to be anything but bountiful and generous.
And you’d be mistaken.
Some three hundred gathered to open a museum that exists to acknowledge institutionalized anti-Chinese racism. The date was carefully chosen. July 1st, 2023, marks one hundred years since the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Every level of government was in attendance, from Vancouver’s mayor Ken Sim, to Premier David Eby, to Senator Woo and retired Senator Poy. The federal government was represented by the Hon. Mary Ng. The lineup included museum CEO Dr. Melissa Karman Lee, Board Chair Grace Wong, Bob Rennie, and Yat “Mel” Wing Yip. (For my genealogists, Mel is my half first cousin once removed and his Yip family code is #8-3.)
It began, as Chinese events often do, with a dragon dance. I’ve come to appreciate these dances over time, seeing their sheer athleticism under the traditional costuming. Fifty years ago I was embarrassed by their colour and noise but today I see the dance in a new light. Let them be loud. Be colourful. Be noticeable. I’m Chinese AND Canadian and it’s okay for me to enjoy both.
I have visited the museum three times and one day soon I hope to visit when it’s quiet.
June thirtieth was a day to attend as a museum patron. I feel connected to the place on so many levels. The bricks housed my father, his father, and his father. The Paper Trail exhibition holds head tax certificates from both sides of my family. The third floor houses the Yip family period room and the school room, and the walls are lined with my family photos. Two documentaries include my work. Our names are on the donor walls. At the museum I know almost everyone, from the volunteers to the decision makers, and I’m welcomed like family.
It’s a lot to process. Is there a word for overwhelmed with gratitude? If there is, I am that.
Postscript & Thank yous
I’ve been working on Chinese Canadian genealogy for almost three decades. It’s almost laughable how forgotten our history has been. I think of how I have spent twenty years visiting used bookstores looking for any mention of Chinese Canadian history. The idea that it was possible for one person to collect nearly all significant titles in this genre speaks volumes about its underrepresentation.
But no longer. There are entire groups across Canada, the United States, and in Jiangmen, Guangdong, that are devoted to the study of Chinese diasporic history. Our rich stories are being uncovered, our records released. At the risk of missing someone, I’d like to thank:
- my progenitor, Yip Sang (葉生) and my huge family
- Catherine Clement, June Chow, Gerry Yee, and the Paper Trail team
- Jack Gin, Ginsight Productions; Sonny Wong and the creative team at Hamazaki Wong
- The members of my Facebook group Genealogy for Asian Canadians
- Dr. Melissa Karman Lee, CEO, Chinese Canadian Museum
- Grace Wong, Chair, Chinese Canadian Museum, and Richard K. Wong
- Arlene Chan and Leo Chan
- Dr. Selia Tan, Dr. Zhang, and the students of Wuyi University, Jiangmen, Guangdong
- My SLIGGERS – Carly Morgan and Linda Harms Okazaki
- my mentors and fellow students with the ICAPGEN study groups
- Kelly Summers, AG
- the Won, Cumyow, and Lee descendants
- the irrepressible Dr. Henry Yu an the Asian Studies group at UBC
- Elwin Xie
- Douglas and Tong Chow
- Keira Loughran
- Alice Kane and the Chinese Historical Society of New England
- The Chinese Family History Group
- Blair Galston and my friends on the United Church of Canada committee
- my clients (I won’t name you but I appreciate you so much)
- the Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans Unit 280 (Chinatown)