For this week’s film pick we once again defer to Aisling Chin-Yee, who explains the choice for week 7 of the NFB’s Work For All campaign.
In recognition of Asian Heritage Month, this week’s anti-racism feature is Unwanted Soldiers, a personal documentary by Jari Osbourne about her father, a Chinese Canadian WWII veteran. In the film, Osbourne contrasts the critical role of Chinese Canadian soldiers in the field with the dismal situation they faced at home as she tells the story of her father’s war service and, later, his efforts to advance the civil rights of the Chinese Canadian population.
Subject to a long history of discrimination, Canada’s early Chinese population was particularly hard hit by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which virtually suspended Chinese immigration for the next 25 years. In the 1940s, Vancouver’s Asian population lacked the right to vote, hold public office or even to obtain work outside of their local ghetto.
When the Second World War broke out, many Chinese Canadian men wanted to enlist – they saw fighting with their countrymen as an opportunity to gain equal status as Canadian citizens. But the Canadian government did not allow Chinese Canadians to sign up for service. That is, until the British government saw an opportunity to take advantage of the colour of their skin and language skills.
Needing to place covert operatives in South East Asia, the Brits felt Chinese Canadians were ideal candidates for “blending in” in occupied Malaya. About a dozen men were selected to secretly train for this operation before embarking on their dangerous operation that would have no ground support by the rest of the army. Osbourne’s father was one of the men selected.
This documentary captures the stories of Osbourne’s father and his war buddies about their lives in British Columbia before the war… and after. It shows their pride in wearing their army uniforms and in enjoying the full rights of Canadian citizenship, as well as their contribution to the war and how they helped to advance the rights of all Chinese Canadians.
This film does more than reveal an important period in Canadian history, it pays
moving tribute to a father’s quiet heroism.