Teenager Helps Father Sponsor Relatives to Immigrate to Canada

That Ontario teenager was myself.  I don’t have a photo like what you see in some recent newspapers: Smiling Canadians posing in photos with Syrian refugees as they arrive at our major city airports.  My experience is not about helping refugees.

Humdrum Insider View:  Helping Others Immigrate

Father at 22 yrs., on left with friend in Hong Kong just before he immigrated to Canada in 1952. He and mother never returned to China. Their good-byes to China and their parents were final.
Father at 22 yrs., on left with friend in Hong Kong just before he immigrated to Canada in 1952. He and mother never returned to China. Their good-byes to China and their parents were final. Father was sponsored by my great-uncle who had a restaurant and gave him a job there in southwestern Ontario town of 2,000 people.

Let me give you our family’s insider view.  It’s about my peripheral involvement in the 1970’s, to help my father sponsor different relatives from mainland China.  The method used by vast majority of immigrants in Canada who applied through Canadian government –using forms and waiting. And waiting. For several years.

Bored of Adult-Like Responsibilities
I can’t quite remember the first time of my familial duty.  I think I was 16 yrs. old.  I wanted to hide behind a library novel and escape from adult-like responsibilities.  My teen ennui and resignation stemmed of being bored as the first-born, asked to do certain adult-like things first:  Translate for my mother at the store or over the phone with the doctor’s office, when a sibling was sick and my father was busy at work.

Next time, I pitched in a similar way, I was 19 yrs. old.  I could clatter half-competently on the application form on our electric  Smith-Corona typewriter  –minus typo-errors every 30-40 words.

Family Sponsorship Application Route: Waiting Several Years

Flying over Canadian mountains in British Columbia or near Alberta border. Some views Asian immigrants may also see, bound for Toronto. 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Flying over Canadian mountains in British Columbia or near Alberta border. Some views Asian immigrants may also see, bound for Toronto. 2015. Photo by J.Chong

My father calmly asked me to type up the federal Canadian government immigration form.   He thought it would look more business-like.  So I dutifully typed in Cousin G’s personal details as my father dictated to me.

Cousin G, who none of us knew at all, except from a black and white photo, was single at the time and in his twenties.  From a rural area in southern China.

The Canadian government didn’t give the green light for Cousin G to immigrate, until a few years later. In the late 1970’s, it took time for wannabe immigrant applicants from mainland China, to be cleared for Canadian immigration.  China was still trying to fight off the iron-fist Communist rule of Mao.

A cloisonne vase brought over earlier by immigrating parent.
Cloissonne vase brought over earlier by immigrating parent. (Not the vase in the fishnet shopping bag brought over by cousin.)

Ceramic Vase Gift in Fish Net Shopping Bag
Finally we met Cousin G. at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. He got off the plane and presented my parents, a gift  with a nod to my mother, because she was his aunt.  It was a large, foot-long Chinese ceramic vase as a gift,  slung  in a plastic  fishnet bag during his plane flight, as if it was food groceries.    He also packed along some Chinese pottery plates inside his luggage which my mother had pre-suggested by letter. She in turn, gave us, each of her 6 children, a Chinese ceramic art plate or planter.

Shortly thereafter, he had to be quarantined in the hospital, for hepatitis.  But he was fine after 3 weeks.

Canadian Integration, Not Immigration is a Long, Hard Road
Fast forward 30 years:  He still continues to work in the kitchens of Chinese restaurants in Metro Toronto.  His wife works in janitorial services at one of the government buildings. They have moved into single detached house in North York. It’s been a long, long journey like any non-English speaking immigrant knows –finding work, saving money, coping with cultural  and linguisitic differences.

Several years later after he settled in his restaurant job and his own rental apartment, my father helped him sponsor his wife whom he married after she immigrated. We were all intrigued:  she wore a rented white wedding dress –aspirational to be modern and Western.  They later had 2 children who 2 decades later, both graduated from Canadian universities. Yes, both are working full-time in Canada.

Firing up a Gas BBQ- Sign of Canadian Modern, Good Times

Gas-fired BBQ- for some immigrants a symbol of Western modernism.
Gas-fired BBQ- for some immigrants a symbol of Western modernism.

But we still have memory when Cousin G invited us, his English-speaking cousins with crummy Chinese fluency, over for dinner. He wanted to show off their first ever BBQ grill –a sign finally having made it in Canadian society.  He and his wife welcomed us proudly into their semi-detached house they acquired with a hard-earned down payment and a mortgage.

We were just incredulous: we didn’t even have BBQ   –even after our parents landed in Canada a quarter century earlier.  It never occurred to us to want a BBQ grill.  Our parents just didn’t want to deal with BBQ flames.  Nevertheless, we had a delicious meal of hamburgers fused with home-cooked Chinese dishes  –very Canadian.

There are several million of these immigrant stories –legitimate immigrants and those who help them, that never make it to the newspapers nor TV.

Children's book on a timeless theme. My paternal and maternal great-grandfathers worked for years in North America in early 20th century in laundries and restaurants. Immigration laws in Canada and U.S. didn't allow Chinese women and children in. So men either returned to China like my great-grandfathers or some stayed, never to see family nor China again.
Children’s book on a timeless theme. My paternal and maternal great-grandfathers worked for years in North America in early 1900’s in laundries and restaurants. Immigration laws in Canada and U.S. didn’t allow Chinese women and children in. So men either returned to China like my great-grandfathers or some stayed, never to see family nor China again. In Canada, the laws were made abit easier after the Chinese head tax was eliminated in 1930’s. Real family reunification became abit easier 1947 onward. Real progress wasn’t until 1967 in Canada to apply as a sponsor for your spouse or child to immigrate into Canada.

Interesting Reading:
http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2015/09/12/new-canadians-cherish-their-right-to-vote-study-finds.html Those who obtain their citizenship may appreciate rights that naturalized Canadians have taken for granted.

Ontario. Multicultural Historical Society.  Educational handout with excerpts of Canadian federal law from early 1900’s onward restricted, then slowly allowed more Chinese immigrants.

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Mabel Kwong says:

    Very interesting family story, Jean. Family will literally do anything for each other, especially when it comes to a Chinese family. To put in the immigration application must come with a bit of stress – not only of the waiting, but there’s no certainly that the family will make it across waters.

    BBQ, a symbol of Western integration according to your Cousin G. Also a symbol of having come far and making the best of opportunities presented to him. I wonder if he prefers eating Chinese or Western food these days. A country can certainly change a person in some ways, but not others.

    Do you still have the porcelain given to you? I take that it might look something like the vase in the photo in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Both the vase was given and also the plate featured on the top banner for blog post. 🙂 I think he probably still prefers Chinese food nowadays. Things may be quite different in your extended family for instance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean it sounds like your family was very generous in helping your cousin. So many stories of kindness and sacrifice to help others that are not known. I am glad to read of this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      The help was primarily to finalize the application and orient the relative once they landed in Canada plus give some job hunting tips/connections via the restaurant world.

      How is the Syrian family that your group sponsored, faring nowadays?

      Like

  3. livelytwist says:

    This post reminded me of what an arduous journey immigration is for some. Sometimes I think that if you’re a 1st generation immigrant from an older era, you never really fully settle in your adopted country. Your heart is in two places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Certainly does depend on each incoming immigrant and their adjustment –despite strong motivation they may have to become a participating member in their new country. It gets compounded if adopted new country requires learning their new official language.

      I just returned from a European vacation trip: France, Germany and Spain. I noticed in a tiny, beautiful preserved medieval and Rennaissance German town where we were, there was 1 Chinese restaurant. Strangely, the restaurant unlike other local restaurants, did not have windows to peer inside. I didn’t think that was a good thing….

      On this trip, I really did notice for the cities and towns where we visited (on our own by bike and train), I didn’t see much Asian faces –tourists or locals. We were in Dijon, France and in surrounding Burgundy wine region area for few days, then speeded over to Barcelona, Spain for several days, back to Strausborg France and up in Rothenburg der au Taber, Germany. Town attracted a lot of tourists from Asia probably because of its preserved “romantic” heritage which a lot of native Asians would love/enjoy because it’s so unlike their own countries and it’s nearly fairytale-like to them and to many other international tourists. I saw this wonderful town through a slightly different lens because my partner is originally from Germany. The town is internationally known also for its centuries long, large Christmas market tradition that draws upon the roots of various Christmas customs that started to Germany and went worldwide. Christmas tree tradition started in Germany.

      However, I’m not sure I would fully enjoy living in these places forever if being one of the few non-whites locally vs. just enjoying as a tourist or Canadian ex-pat for just a few years. Full fluency of local language is no.1 prerequisite.

      There will be some blog posts on some wonderful trip experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am convinced the patience and stamina that sustained our parents will die out with them. First-generation immigrants are incredible in all they endured and hoped against hope.

    Wishing you all things good in the new year, Jean.

    Xx
    D.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      You’re right –they hoped against hope.

      Warmest wishes for good surprises and peace in 2017 for you and your family, HWF.

      Like

  5. Bun Karyudo says:

    It was very interesting to read about how your family helped out an unfamiliar relative like that. I found his story an optimistic one. He had to work hard and struggle, but in the end, he became established, his kids went to Canadian universities, and of course, he got a BBQ grill! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yeah, you did the BBQ grill punch line better than I did. 🙂

      Happy New Year Bun Karyudo!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bun Karyudo says:

        Thank you, and you too! 🙂

        Like

  6. It’s heart-warming how your cousin and his wife seemingly sacrificed themselves to create a wonderful life for their children. Love this story Jean! ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      No kiddin’. Methinks you and I know enough about self-sacrificing immigrant parents. Just tremendous.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. That’s for sure!

        Liked by 1 person

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