by Ed Sum
In the documentary, “From C to C, Chinese Stories of Migration,” the ‘C’ can mean anything. It is not just about coming from China to Canada, but it is about what some Chinese people did to contribute to Canadian society—some became war vets—while others faced scrutiny. Most of these immigrants were ostracized. They were denied their basic civil rights during the turn of the 19th century.
They arrived in this country during the two economic booms of the Pacific Northwest in the search for their ‘Gold Mountain.’ The families and a few survivors of that time recount their tales of racial inequality, survival and injustice. When compared to today’s immigration laws, some people may be shocked. This film skillfully dodges any political commentary and simply looks at how secluded one particular nationality felt.
After the gold rush boom of the Fraser River, the governments thought the Chinese migrants would leave, but they didn’t. They created new lives, sent money back to family and sought success instead of going home and losing face. Honour is everything amongst the Chinese, and this film certainly reflects that.
When the contrasts are made, to look back at life in China, this film creates a somber mood that is mesmerizing to watch. The rustic urban decay wrapped around foliage is wonderfully captured on film. It suggests a deeper meaning, where one infrastructure is on the verge of despoiling another. The shanty conditions of the stone villages are a reminder of those left behind by most immigrants. Younger Chinese-Canadian born viewers may well wonder about the world their grandparents lived in. A few members of today’s youth reveal their response, but more voices from this crowd could have helped hammer the point home.
With the aging and the current generation, like Karin Lee (filmmaker), Bill Wong (Tailor), and Frank Wong (WWII Vet), offering their memoirs, this documentary doesn’t simply get sentimental. It strives to mend fences. No matter how bad some things were, in life or with the clothes one wears, it can be patched up, as Bill Wong points out. With his bright smile, that’s one wonderful message this film makes.
Viewers interested in more stories, videos, and photos can go to the official From C to C website