GENERAL ARTICLES

The Oriental Wants to Vote

Asiatic-Canadians, with a high birth rate, are creating a new problem for British Columbia

CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW April 1 1937
GENERAL ARTICLES

The Oriental Wants to Vote

Asiatic-Canadians, with a high birth rate, are creating a new problem for British Columbia

CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW April 1 1937

The Oriental Wants to Vote

GENERAL ARTICLES

Asiatic-Canadians, with a high birth rate, are creating a new problem for British Columbia

By CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW

MORE THAN six hundred brownskinned babies are opening their little black eyes for the first time in British Columbia every year. Most of them will grow up as healthy youngsters, bright at school, and when they become men and women they will form an intelligent and physically competent section of the province’s population. But unless present conditions are changed they will never become citizens of the land of their birth. They will never have any voice in their country’s policies. They will never be eligible to cast a vote. Nor will some 50.000 other Japanese, Chinese, East Indians and other Asiatics already in the

province.

In this set of facts lies a political and social problem that is giving British Columbia no end of concern these days. It is a problem whose solution becomes steadily more difficult as the years pass by; yet so far-reaching are some of its side issues that politicians have, until the past year, shown the utmost reluctance to grapple with it. Last spring the matter was introduced on the floor of the House of Commons at Ottawa and the Provincial Legislature at Victoria. It was at least a start.

Ever since the smart young railroad contractor, Henry Onderdonk, imported two shiploads of Chinese coolies from across the Pacific to help him build the coast section of the Canadian Pacific Railway more than half a century ago. British Columbia has load an Oriental problem in one form or another. The first phase arose from competition in the labor market. Onderdonk couldn’t rely on the riffraff whites, hoodlums, drifters and ex-bartenders who applied for railroad-building jobs. He had a long section to build-in a hurry. Chinese coolies, who worked fast and well and seemed quite happy on three bowls of rice a day. were the answer to his riddle, even though their successors created a new one for British Columbia. The white settlers protested and passed resolutions, but Onderdonk offered the ultimatum. “No Chinese, no railroad,” and. as everyone knows, the railroad was finished on time.

When the job was done, some of the

Chinese returned to their native land. Some remained in British Columbia and found work in the gold fields, or as domestic servants, laundrymen. small storekeepers and restaurant operators. Nobody minded that very much, for the Chinese met a real demand for cheap labor in noncompetitive lines. It was when the Orientals started to get jobs in sawmills and other industries because their cost of living was lower and they cheerfully accepted less pay. that white labor unions began to grow restive. This was during the period before the war when the Western world was first becoming conscious of what the German kaiser was first to call the Yellow Peril—a warning wholeheartedly supported by the noisy trumpetings of the Hearst press, especially in California.

Post-War Competition

ANOTHER PHASE of Asiatic competition came /"V during the war and the years immediately following. Enlistment had drained the farms and the fisheries of a large proportion of their white workers, and so to some extent Orientals drifted in to fill the void, even though by then immigration from across the Pacific had been pretty well restricted. The Chinese, favored by their centuries-old agricultural tradition, extended their holdings and, favored by low living costs and the reduction in white competition, soon gained virtually a monopoly in lines of production such as potatoes and truck crops. They made the growing of vegetables big business. The Japanese went in for fruit growing up and down the great Fraser River, at whose mouth they established a tiny segment of old Japan at the fishing town of Steveston. Japanese fishermen, despite restrictive legislation, still swarm over British Columbia’s fishing grounds. In almost every little cove along the coast line you will find the mark of the Japanese fishermen, and it was recently mentioned in the House of Commons that the Japanese fishermen’s maps of our Pacific Coast are superior to the official charts of Canada.

Then there has been the commercial phase of Oriental competition—the fast-increasing establishment of stores by Japanese and Chinese, devoted chiefly to the sale of groceries, fruit and vegetables. Thanks to the thrifty and efficient—we might as well give him his due—practices of the Oriental storekeeper, plus the invasion of the chain stores, the independent white grocer is now a vanishing figure in British Columbia commerce. And then, of course, there are Asiatics in the cleaning business, the hardware business, the dyeing and pressing and barbering trades, in fact, in just about every occupation you may care to name, in greater or less degree. Their big advantage, as in industry. is the low cost of living, willingness to work long hours, and give good, if not particularly elegant, service.

All these forms of competition so far discussed are purely

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The Oriental Wants to Vote

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economic, even though they do have their social undertones. But now these old controversies have been subordinated to a new and more far-reaching one-political competition. At present Orientals are denied the electoral franchise. In the past they have not seemed to care. But now, especially in the case of the Japanese, the Orientals are asking for a new political deal in British Columbia. Frankly, they want to vote: and white labor, which has felt a certain sense of security because the Oriental has had no voice in legislation, is wondering whether this last remaining advantage must be surrendered.

The C. C. F. Attitude

THERE WAS one brief period when Orientals did vote in British Columbia. Back in the 7()’s, when politics was a very serious business and the party in power simply had to find some way of staying in office, a good many illiterate mining-camp Chinese were given ballots and told exactly what to do with them; but since those days the term “Chinaman’s chance.” politically speaking, has meant in B. C. exactly what it infers—not a chance at all.

The present agitation for enfranchisement of Orientals had its political genesis in the I louse of Commons in 1934 when, in discussing a plan to disfranchise troublesome Dukhobors, J. S. Woodsworth. leader of the Co-operative Commomvealth Federation, protested that there was already too much disfranchisement, and he cited the case of the Orientals in B. C. who had no vote. An alert opponent of Mr. Woodsworth proceeded to put him on record. Would he,, Mr. Woodsworth. advocate giving the vote to Orientals in B. C.? With the C. C. F. a growing political factor in B. C., the question was charged with high explosives, but Mr. Woodsworth made no attempt to evade it. Yes, he would let them vote; why not?

Mr. Woodsworth explained that nearly 200 Japanese had enlisted to fight for Canada during the war, and that because of their enlistment they had been enrolled as voters. Yet other Japanese, just as loyal even if they did not bear arms, were denied the vote. Furthermore, the children of those Japanese veterans were denied citizenship. Mr. Woodsworth could not make any sense out of such a situation, and said so. He recalled a visit he had made to Japan last year when he had met some Canadian-born Japanese.

“They were like fish out of water,” Mr. Woodsworth told his fellow legislators. “Most of them could not even read Japanese. They regarded Canada as their home and country, even though they were treated as political outcasts. To them, Japan was a foreign country.”

Mr. Woodsworth’s stand on votes for Orientals provided one of the chief issues of the last provincial campaign. Opposing campaign managers made the most of the appeal to race prejudice. Blaring voices on the radio, bold black type in handbills, billboards and newspapers proclaimed that the C. C. F. favored votes for Chinese and Japanese. C. C. F. candidates in B. C., fully aware of hostility toward Orientals because of their economic competition, stepped carefully around the issue in their platform speeches.

But with the election over, C. C. F'. spokesmen became more daring. Those who had been elected felt safe in bringing the matter before the public. Angus Maclnnis, representing Vancouver South in the House of Commons, brought it before the House in the form of a resolution:

“Whereas it is detrimental to the best interests of Canada that there should be in the country groups to whom, because ol race or religious beliefs, we do not extend all the rights of citizenship, be it resolved that, in the opinion of this Flouse. the

Government should take the necessary measures to exclude all persons belonging to these groups to whom we do not grant the full rights and privileges of citizenship."

There were two ways of reading this resolution. Either it meant that Canada should keep out all Orientals and others who were not entitled to vote, even to the possible extreme of shipping back all disfranchised people already in the country; or else it meant that there should be no political discrimination against people resident in Canada. The resolution, according to some critics, was a rather roundabout way of saying something that could have been expressed in a much simpler and more straightforward way. Some Members interpreted the resolution as favoring exclusion, which Mr. Maclnnis denied. Partly because of the confusion over the wording, the resolution was defeated 186 to fifteen.

Japanese Want to Vote

DUT IT IS a safe conjecture that this U is not the last that the House of Commons will hear about votes for Asiatics. If left to the white lawmakers themselves, the agitation might gradually subside. But actually it is being kept alive not by politicians, but by the people most vitally concerned—the Orientals. It would be more accurate to say Japanese, because only the Japanese have been actively campaigning for the vote. The Japanese are the problem—not the Chinese, whose numbers are slowly diminishing, nor the East Indians, still a negligible factor. The Japanese are the problem, not only because they want to vote and don’t see why they can’t, but because they are multiplying.

According to a recent survey, there are

24.000 Japanese in B. C. today. More than

11.000 of them are Canadian bom, and 136 of those are Canadian-born children of Canadian-born parents. The birth rate among Japanese in British Columbia is far and away higher than that of any other racial group in the province.

There are 3.685 Japanese children attending the province’s schools. Of the Canadian-born Japanese of ten years and over, more than 41 per cent read English only. Forty-four per cent read English and Japanese, and 14.3 per cent can read Japanese only. Only .02 of the same category are described as illiterate.

The attitude of Mr. Maclnnis and others who favor giving Japanese and other Asiatics the vote is that, so long as they are in the country, everything possible should be done to make them good and loyal citizens. Such a view is shared by Prof. H. F. Angus, of the University of British Columbia, one of Canada’s outstanding authorities on Pacific affairs. Apart from all sentimental considerations, the professor thinks it would be good business to let the Japanese vote. He thinks the whole attitude toward the Japanese in B. C. is ridiculously shortsighted.

"The high birth rate of Japanese is resented,” he says, "and yet nothing is done to check it in a natural and normal way. Because they are denied the vote, they are automatically debarred from several professions, and the stigma attached to aliens is another factor that compels Japanese to seek their livelihood in lower classes of employment, often in competition with white men less intelligent than themselves and to the disadvantage of the whites. An immigrant minority coming from a poorer land and being usually in the prime of life, naturally reproduces at a higher rate than the people among whom it settles. If properly absorbed into the social, economic and political life of the community, the birth rate invariably falls. If we just sit tight we will pile up a succession of awful difficulties for our coming generation. The

sooner wt remove the artificial handicap on the Japanese, the better it will be for ourselves.”

“A More Broadminded View”

DUT APART from a casual admission that something will probably have to be done about it, most British Columbians are not in the mood to give the problem serious attention. Despite the aspirations of Japanese leaders, white British Columbians do not mix freely with Japanese and most of the contacts are merely in the processes of trade. The Japanese is notorious for keeping his thoughts to himself, and because he doesn’t make a political speech while he wraps up the celery, many British Columbians conclude that the Japanese shopkeeper, or any other Japanese in the province, doesn't give a thought to political equality.

Even some Members of Parliament argue that the only tiling that interests the Japanese in B. C. is his livelihood, but that seems to be effectively contradicted by the organized effort among Japanese last year to have their people put on the voters’ lists.

This effort was brought to the surface last spring when a delegation of scholarly young Canadian-born Japanese invaded Ottawa and appeared before the House elections committee to request amendment to the Elections and Franchise laws that would make their countrymen eligible as voters in British Columbia.

These young spokesmen voiced a resentment that does not exist solely among the young intellectuals. The movement which they sponsored has the complete support of the accredited representatives of Japan in Canada. Mr. Ko lshii. who until recently was Japanese consul at Vancouver, made it quite clear that he favored a removal of the present discrimination. As a means of overcoming antagonism between the races, he counselled the encouragement of social gatherings at which the white and Oriental races would mix.

'T frankly admit,” said Mr. lshii, "that the standard of the old regime has not been as high as that of Canadians, but with the growing influence of recent years there are many who are now on a par with most Canadians. We Japanese must take a more broadminded view and arrange mixed parties, with a view to breaking down prejudices and racial barriers.”

Another manifestation of this new thought among Japanese in B. C. is the formation of the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ League, whose aims, apart from development of goodwill between Canada and Japan, are to foster good citizenship among Canadians of Japanese origin.

“To our knowledge,” says Harry Naganobu, president of the league, “no other Japanese organization is actively doing the work we intend to perform, namely, that of developing our Japanese Canadians into full-fledged citizens of the land of their birth.”

The league, incidentally, is spreading fast, with chapters active wherever Japanese have congregated in considerable numbers. It publishes a newspaper of its own—a lively, well-edited weekly published in English, of course—and with nothing of the comical Japanese schoolboy phraseology about it, either. A recent editorial in this paper strongly urged Japanese parents to be broadminded about dancing, as “dancing is a social bridge with which wre may cross the gap of misunderstanding between ourselves and other Canadians.”

Anti-Franchise Argument

BUT. REGARDLESS of all these

ambitions, the gulf between Japanese

and whites in British Columbia is still too

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77l Cover the Waterfront77

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“Pestered? How?"

"How would you like one of those big birds to swoop within three feet of you. look you over as if deciding what part of you it would like to eat first?” replied Captain Stubbs, who apparently was eyed up and down more than once by Cape hens.

“The sailors.” continued Captain Stubbs, “used to fire at them if they could. Now. on the other hand, the Cape pigeons, as we used to call them and which I suppose were really small albatrosses, were well liked by the sailors. They brought us good luck. We were not afraid of them. You know', those birds had marvellous eyesight. The albatross would coast by you in the air, look at you with one eye,

then cock his head and look at you with the other. You felt he was sizing you up. but he never landed. In the old sailing days I have known albatrosses to follow' us for weeks. But they can’t keep up with the steamships, so they follow one for just a short time; say. a couple of hours.

“The albatross can’t live in captivity. Once in a w'hile someone brings one into an Australian zoo. but in a matter of w'eeks it is dead.”

Incidentally, the Encyclopedia Britannica might better scrap the present dull little sketch of the albatross and get Captain Stubbs to write it up properly, for he knows far more about the big bird than the encyclopedia pundit did.