"... people that went back to China ended up selling their papers ... people who wanted to come here ... would buy an identity ... to get to America."
Toronto filmmaker Kwoi Gin's father, Suey Kee Gin, arrived in Canada in the early 1950s as a the "paper son" of his own grandfather, who had followed an uncle here to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He used false identity documents purchased by his mother in Hong Kong to enter Canada, a common deception used by families to overcome the discrimination of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
"My grandmother was worried that my father might get caught coming through immigration because she thought he might have been too young and they would turn him back," says Kwoi, who was born in Hong Kong. "She wanted to have that insurance that he would make it through."
Canada had repealed the Exclusion Act in 1947, but many Chinese Canadian families still lived in legal limbo and found it difficult to reunite. Ironically, Kwoi's father once had legitimate papers, but they were sold to another family to allow a son to come to Canada under his name. In 1965, Kwoi and his mother were finally able to move from Hong Kong to Toronto, and he met his father for the first time. Then, as a 9-year-old boy, he found Canada to be frightening and alienating.next page >
Kwoi says he's searched most of his life for a place to call home, traveling back to Hong Kong in the 1990s to explore his South China Sea roots. "I didn't want to come back, because I didn't really like it here in Canada. I couldn't fit in," he says. "Then when I went back there, I was very disillusioned and I realized I could never go home again. What I left was no longer there, and I didn't fit in there probably just as much as I didn't fit in here."
Kwoi also has searched for his family's Canadian roots in Quesnel Forks, B.C., a ghost town where his great-grandfather, Dip Gin, lived for a time after the completion of the CPR. "I remember stories, fragments, from my great-grandfather about going there after the railroad. So I wanted to see if I could find any of that history."< previous page