IN-DEPTH

Roy Miki looks Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice
May 3, 2006

Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice, by Roy Miki. Raincoast Books, 2005.

The Chinese head-tax redress movement continues to vie for recognition from the Canadian government after over eighty years of struggle, while the recent findings of an SFU sociology grad, indicate that non-white young Canadians (native to Canada) are still, today, more likely to experience job discrimination than their white counterparts. Yes, racism does still exist in Canada, and no, this country has not simply become a multicultural refuge for thousands while immigrants toil exclusively south of the 49th parallel.

Canada and the United States share many similarities that belie Canada’s image as a progressive nation of peaceful healthcare providers and immigration supporters.  The historical record in Canada demonstrates circumstances that have been, in many cases, much worse for some communities. Roy Miki’s Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (Raincoast 2005) draws upon what is perhaps one of the most jarring examples of Canadian racism, when nearly 23,000 people (mostly naturalized second generation Japanese Canadians) living primarily in British Columbia were interred in the wake of anti-Japanese and Asian hysteria at the height of World War II.  The situation in Canada was actually worse than it was for people in the United States who were similarly interred, but did not face the property seizures and liquefied assets faced by Japanese Canadians.  Japanese citizens of Canada actually had to wait over fifty years until 1988, when the Canadian government finally recognized the movement to redress the dislocation and trauma caused to an entire community of people – and even then, Japanese Canadians had to wait a whole year after a parallel American redress movement in the United States received official recognition to receive their own settlement from Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government.

Written as an insider’s memoir, Redress can be read as a definitive history of Japanese Canadians – especially through the comprehensive bibliography the author has compiled.  Indeed, Miki draws on works ranging from the fiction of Joy Kogawa’s Obasan (1983), to Ken Adachi’s seminal The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians (1976) as well as a scrupulous array of primary sources located in the Library Archives of Canada and the Japanese Canadian Museum.  Miki is also very careful to differentiate and define the many voices that made up the redress movement which came from across the political spectrum and from across several generations.

More than simply an insider’s work of history, however, Redress pushes forward the boundaries of anti-racism theory in Canada. Miki is explicitly forward looking in his appraisal of the redress movement, and is quick to point out that the experience of Japanese Canadians (their internment, and the tremendous trauma, social and cultural dislocation suffered by subsequent generations) was not simply an anomaly of Canadian history but rather a central example of wider systemic oppression and dialectic struggle that has involved numerous racialized minorities. In their struggle to not only achieve official recognition, Miki highlights the role that language has played in inscribing and re-inscribing racialized identity, whereby Japanese Canadians were compelled to mobilize the “power of language” and “write themselves” into Canadian history. As Miki suggests, “(w)ithout the voice [of the redress movement, Japanese Canadians] could not have negotiated the necessary social and political space for redress to take on visibility – and thereby to assume a strong enough presence to call forth a response from those who hold the reins of political power.” It is perhaps no coincidence that current movements, such as the struggle to redress the Chinese Head Tax, have similarly framed their efforts as a form of “redress.”

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