The nineteenth century was
a time of nation building in North America. Vast tracks of land
needed to be cleared and cities were being built. People were
necessary if the land was to be cleared and settled. Men, and
later women, were brought in from all over the world to build
the railways, cut down the forests, and work the farms and plantations.
In Canada and the United States, preference was given to the
English over the Scots and Irish, Northern Europeans over Southern
and Eastern Europeans, and Europeans over Asians. At first, leaders
in the United States and Canada praised ethnic minorities for
their industriousness but as the infrastructure of these countries
was being completed, the words of praise changed to complaints
that these men (mostly Chinese, Indian and Japanese) were taking
away "our jobs". Despite the racism and prejudice encountered
by these early Asian pioneers, most remained in North America
in the hopes of building a better life for their families.
Visible minorities faced increasing
prejudice as the nineteenth century ended and the twentieth began.
The west coast of North America had large concentrations of Asians,
making them an economic threat and easy targets. Canada and the
United States had relied on Asian workers to build their countries
but now wanted these "strangers" to leave. Restrictions
against Asian immigration increased at the same time that Canada
and the United States were actively recruiting immigration from
Europe. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, small
numbers of Asian communities existed in pockets along the West
Coast. Isolated from society at large, Asians lived on the periphery
of North American society. They were seen as a source of cheap
labour and provided services that made life better for others
but separated by barriers of culture and language. Asians were
rarely considered a real part of the countries they lived in.
They slowly grew in number and gradually moved east in search
of new opportunities and places where they were less of a perceived
Things changed dramatically
for Asian immigrants after the Second World War. While Europe
was still recovering, North America experienced an economic boom.
Contributions by Asians to the war effort led to the revocation
of restrictions against Asian immigration and citizenship. The
Civil Rights movement in the United States also had ramifications
for Asians. As African Americans fought for political and social
equality, other minorities also began to press for these same
rights. It was a time for social change. Equality and prosperity
brought new opportunities to everyone. By now, many Asian families
were into their third generation in North America. Many grew
up in North American culture and spoke fluent English. Asian
ghettos, such as Chinatowns, emerged from their isolation and
soon became centers of tourism and nightlife.
The late 1980s brought on a
series of profound political changes in Europe and Asia. The
Cold War, which dominated the world, following the Second World
War, disappeared as the Eastern Bloc collapsed and communist
nations in Asia either fell or introduced democratic reform.
Huge advances in communication and travel meant that the "global
village" was an increasing reality. Political activism took
on a more international view. Increased awareness of what was
happening around the world meant that people in North America
cared as much about issues at home as they did abroad.
Celebrations and Perspectives
of Asian Canadian History
The project was made
possible with the support of the
of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy
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