KJ Mullins-Toronto: They tried to forget the ‘low beginnings’, the head tax, the humble and obstacles that faced their journey to ‘Gold Mountain’. The film ‘Lost Years’ explores the journey of Chinese immigrants to North America from the 1880’s to the fight for redress today.
Chinese immigrants helped to build Canada and the United States starting in the 1880’s. They tackled the deadly work of building railways across the west, in some areas four would die for each mile that was completed. These immigrants came to what they called Gold Mountain for the chance of a brighter future for their families. They are the only immigrants to North America that were asked to pay additional money, a head tax, in order for that chance. As spirited Gim Wong said, whom the movie Lost Years is dedicated, Chinese immigrants were slaves who who to pay for their own journey into slavery. Wong fought to be allowed to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII and in his later years he fought to get the word out about the Chinese-Canadian redress campaign. Riding his motorcycle across the nation he didn’t let anyone get away with the injustices that he and his ancestors faced.
Lost Years traces the Chinese-Canadian experience from China, Angel Island in San Francisco and Vancouver showing the hurdles faced and the anti-Chinese racism in North America at the time. When a European immigrated they could have to wait 2 weeks at Ellis Island to land. When a Chinese immigrant arrived at Angel Island in California that wait could be as long as 2 years.
From 1885 until 1923 in Canada the Chinese head tax charged new immigrants from $50 (1885) to $500 (after 1903) to enter the country. The tax meant to discourage Chinese men from arriving in Canada came after the railroads had been completed. In 1923 the tax was stopped-and the border virtually closed to all Chinese people. In total about $23 million had been collected due to the head tax. Those who had paid the tax now dealt with the lost years, alone and unable to bring their families to Canada. It wasn’t until 1947 that the act that created the Lost Years was repealed.
Since 1984 there has been a modern movement for redress of the treatment of Chinese Canadians during this dark time of Canadian history. Lost Years explains the movement and the issues behind it beautifully giving a voice to the silence that has clouded the shame of both a people and the government for far too long. Filmmaker Kenda Gee also retraces his family’s steps from China along with his father highlighting the effects of a family’s journey to Gold Mountain.
This powerful documentary is this season’s must see film.