Documentary shines light on Chinese-Canadian experience

From the fields of mainland China to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong to right here in the Okanagan, the documentary Lost Years tells the story of the Chinese immigrant experience around the world.

It also tells a part of Canada’s history not many people know about.

“For the large part, racist policies and attitudes that existed from the turn of the century, 1910 and onward, even through present day,” said filmmaker Kenda Gee.

The documentary was originally inspired by the tale of Larry Kwong of Vernon, who was the first NHL player of Chinese descent, but filmmakers say it turned into something much bigger.

“The struggle Larry had to be a hockey player was a struggle people had in other parts of life all cross the country,” said filmmaker Tom Radford.

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“Head tax and immigration are definitely two major parts of the story,” said Gee. “But it’s that whole period of time that racist attitudes and social Darwinism persisted so it’s just this pervasive attitude that took place from the early 1900s to the late 1960s.”

The documentary is also a personal one for Gee.

Gee’s great-grandparents left China more than 100 years ago.

In the film, he travels with his father back to the village where they lived.

“Going back to China, we knew from the offset it was going to be emotional. Many of the rural areas now have been abandoned. Many of the villagers have gone to the urban centres,” Gee said.

The filmmakers say the purpose of Lost Years is to shine a light on the Chinese immigrant experience, starting from mainland China to the impacts of discrimination faced by Chinese-Canadians.

“One is uncovering and educating viewers of this past history. The other is to raise awareness of what the redress campaign was because 27 years later, there are families that are still wanting to be included in the original apology that Ottawa had issued,” Gee said.

“The Chinese-Canadian experience has been lost to our history so it’s winning it back. This film fills in a whole lot of gaps,” Radford said.

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And by filling in those gaps, Gee hopes the story of this generation of Chinese-Canadians will be different from their ancestors.

“As it’s often been said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” Gee said.

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