Imagine coming to a new country, a new culture, and leaving your family and friends behind. You are promised that life will be better and that you will have a high paying job. But, when you get to the new country, you are stereotyped, discriminated against, and mentally and physically abused. Life is much harder and you have to work for at least 12 hours per day for very low wages. This is exactly what both the Chinese migrants and the Chinese labourers went through on what they thought was going to be a new and better life in Canada.
Several shiploads of illegal Chinese migrants were caught off the west coast of British Columbia in the summer of 1999. These migrants were granted admittance into Canada and many have claimed refugee status. The treatment of these migrants has of course, not been good. However, many Canadians feel sorry for them, as they had to live for weeks in unthinkable conditions just to come here. There were mattresses laid on the floor and the boats were dirty and unhealthy. Buckets were used for toilets and the drinking water was contaminated. Small generators were used to supply power and the migrants survived off bottled water and little food.
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These illegal migrants were smuggled into Canada by Asian smuggling gangs known as snakeheads. These gangs charge up seventy thousand dollars to smuggle people into Canada. Accomplices here arrange for jobs for the migrants. Many of them end up working in restaurants, sweatshops, as poor farmers, or street merchants. Females are usually forced to work in the sex trade. These migrants have very little education and work for very low wages (as little as four dollars an hour) in horrible working conditions. They have to give almost all of their wages to the snakeheads, who charge up to eighteen percent interest, to pay off their debts. Snakeheads control their existence for years and are warned to obey their every command or risk being severely punished. It takes years to pay off their debts and if the price is not paid, gangs resort to threats or physical violence to intimidate the migrants or their families.
The main reason the migrants come here is to escape a life of poverty or a bad past. Some are lured here by promises of high paying jobs. But, they end up working for six to seven years to pay off their debts. They are watched twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by gang members to help prevent their disappearance. Not only do they live a life of loneliness, they have to come here, to a new country, without knowing anyone, and they have to get used to a new culture. They are stereotyped, unwelcome, treated badly, and mentally abused. Also, if they return home, they risk being punished or even killed.
In 1880-85, the construction of the western section of the Canadian Pacific Railway employed thousands of Chinese workers. 17,000 Chinese workers left their homes and came to B.C. to begin working on the railway. 700 Chinese men died while building the C.P.R. and many more were injured. They were paid between $1.50-$1.75, half as much as white men. The labourers worked in dangerous working conditions and ate rice and stale ground salmon. White men were served fresh meat and vegetables. One third of the Chinese labourers lost their lives, killed by rockslides, cave-ins, or by diseases like scurvy. When they became sick, no one would help or even give them a drink of water.
Visible minority groups suffered from mainstreaming, society’s intolerance, prejudice, and bigotry. They were mistreated daily and violence was not uncommon and also suffered from disdain and knowing that they were second-class citizens. They were commonly used as scapegoats for economic, social, and political problems and were accused of taking work from white workers.
Personally, I don’t think there has been a change as to how Chinese migrants are treated and how the labourers were treated. They were both treated more like animals than people. These visible minorities were victims of stereotyping, racism, discrimination, society’s intolerance, and bigotry. But, I think that the migrants had it a little bit easier than the labourers. I’m not saying that the migrants had it easy; they both had a very hard time fitting into our society. It’s very unfair that these innocent people were treated the way that they were. They were taken advantage of and both physically and mentally abused. I think that we all need to learn to treat each other with respect, no matter what colour our skin or hair is, or where we come from.
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