Immigrant Chinese Women in Canada dissertation

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Immigrant Chinese Women in Canada

Immigrant Histories: Chinese Women in Canada

Nothing is as difficult and as painful as uprooting oneself or one's family for a new life in a strange land. However, many have had to do so throughout history, to not only survive, but also to prosper. The New World, fabled for its freedoms and its promises of riches, has appealed to many people across this vast world. This appeal has reached as far as China, parts of whose population started their voyage to North America almost 150 years ago (Multicultural History Society of Ontario [MHSO], 2001). This research will examine a brief history of the Chinese population in Canada, starting at the turn of the century, and will continue by describing this population's lifestyle, complete with its problems, its disappointments and its successes, in detail.

According to the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (2001), the Guangdong province, located in southern China, was the origin of most Canada-bound Chinese immigrants, with the first woman setting foot in Vancouver in 1860. The reason for the influx of the 19th century was the recruitment of close to 15,000 Chinese railway workers to build the Canadian Pacific Railway (MHSO, 2001). Just as today, men would go overseas first and search for work, leaving families at home. If and when men found work, and in this case they did, they would send for their families. Thus, during the 1850's, Canada saw an influx of Chinese men, and, soon after, the women and children arrived by way of San Francisco. These women, as wives or daughters of merchants, were exempt from restrictive Chinese Immigration Acts, according to the MHSO (2001).

Life in Canada was very different for these women, however. For one, they did not have the extended family's support system that they would have had in China. In addition to their domestic duties, women often worked in the family business to raise the family's income. If a woman became widowed, she could choose to go back to China or remain in Canada. Many preferred the latter and opened up their own laundry or cafe businesses.

Some women advanced to become teachers, or doctors, but despite these successes, the Chinese, and especially the Canadian-born generation, suffered because of discrimination. Discrimination towards women was especially strong, because Chinese women kept the Chinese community alive. They taught their children about their culture, traditions and values. Yet the Canadian-born generation, with all the diversity it brought to the country, was not recognized to have full-citizenship. In 1923, the Canadian government, according to the MHSO (2001), "stopped all Chinese immigration so that the communities would eventually die out" through the "Exclusion Act." The Chinese community, however, especially starting in the 1940s, despite these restrictions, started showing its allegiance to the adopted country, and even helped the war effort. By 1947, the "Exclusion Act" was repealed, and Chinese Canadians had the right to vote. The fight, however, was not over yet, and it was only in 1957 that the government finally agreed to lighten its immigration policy and allow Chinese families to be reunited in Canada (MHSO, 2001).

Things seemed to brighten for the women, especially with these mid-century improvements, but as recently as 2005, some research shows different results. According to a conference for the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) on the "Equality Deficit -- Chinese Immigrant Women in Canada," the said deficit is most decidedly still there. According to a member of the Canadian Senate, Vivienne Poy, who is Chinese by descent, "the most marginalized group [in Canada] is visibly minority immigrant women who continue to struggle to achieve equal access to jobs, and social resources" (Poy, 2005). Poy continues to say that her discourse will focus on Chinese women in Canada, as she is most familiar with this is the subject. In one of the interviews conducted, she states, a Chinese woman made light of her status in Canadian society. This woman saw herself as doubly challenged because she faced two levels of discrimination, based on race and gender. Though she had assimilated and spoke English perfectly she still faced the challenges simply because of her ethnicity and the tendency of most people to judge based on how somebody looks. Indeed, it seems that a lot of immigrant women are still dependents of their husbands for various rights, even if, sometimes, they are more capable or more educated (Poy, 2005).

Furthermore, the Senator declares, statistics often show that many new Canadian minority women "still find language, culture and the lack of integration leave them isolated [despite the fact that] they may be the ones who most require legal, social, and health services, or language and career training […] they are the least likely to access them" (Poy, 2005). This is especially saddening because, statistically, minority women are the ones most likely not to report abuse. As most immigrant communities from the Asia Pacific region are patriarchal, the wives are subservient to their husbands, and often stay with their husbands despite conflict, in order to keep the family together.

Despite these hurdles, various organizations have been set up in immigrant communities to help with various issues, and some include support networks that the women have constructed themselves. SUCCESS, a counseling agency in Vancouver, specializes in helping battered women and offers anger management for men. According to this agency, "the number of battered Chinese women seeking help at SUCCESS has risen over the last few years, however, underreporting remains common in immigrant communities" (Poy, 2005). Other organizations include the Working Women's Community Centre, the Centre for Information and Community Services, the Maytree Foundation, the Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children and the Ontario Women's Justice Network. These organizations, all of whom understand the sensitive issues surrounding an immigrant community, work to provide appropriate counseling and legal services, according to the Senator's discourse (Poy, 2005).

Another way by which Chinese women in Canada are uniting is through the Chinese Professional Women of Canada (CPWC), an organization established in 1996 with the purpose of uniting Chinese Professional Women to encourage networking and mutual support, and participation for these women in mainstream Canadian society, to thereby increase their opportunities for economic advancement (CPWC, 2011). The organization does not have success links, but its existence and the most recent newsletters that it seeks to disperse, prove that a support group exists for women, and this is very important to the immigrant society, as it can be vital to help Chinese immigrants, as will be discussed below.

A study conducted by academics from Canada and Norway on the labor market outcomes of Chinese immigrants in Canada also shows the impact of the change for Chinese women as they enter the Canadian labor market. This study also proves that women have the worst outcomes in this case, even worse than men sometimes, for often employers will not accept their credentials and they will be forced to accept low-level jobs. This is, in part, due to issues discussed above, such as discrimination based on race and gender, but it is also due to the fact that Canadian society does not recognize international education or professional certification and experience. In other words, employers in Canada, and especially in the women's case, will want to see something with which they are familiar, especially when it comes to education and experience, and will often be parochial (Salaff & Greve, 2003).

Some believe, however, that Chinese women do constitute "untapped potential" for Canadian society. In a study conducted by Sharon Li and Margaret Gillett, they state that Chinese women do not self-actualize after immigration, due to the fact that they are one of the most disadvantaged groups and thus have a difficult time integrating into society, as aforementioned. According to Li, the…[continue]

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