provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Lost Soul?

Every few weeks, sometimes for several days in a row, I receive an unsolicited email from a man named "Brad Saltzberg." I'm usually one of about a dozen recipients of his mass emails, along with UBC colleagues or elected officials of various sorts, but sometimes he also sends an email to me personally, addressing me by my first name as if we are acquaintances or even friends, even though I have never actually met him. He has been sending me such messages for years now, and although they come sporadically, I have come to almost expect them, as if I were part of some marketing plan.

I have never bothered to answer his emails, since they rank in my cataloguing of the 100s of emails that I receive each day in the same category as fake Viagra ads and other email scams. I considered using my spam filter to send his emails to oblivion, but for some reason I never actually pushed the virtual death button to consign him and his furtive missives to electronic oblivion. At first, I thought it was because I was curious about whose email addresses I would appear alongside in these odd emails--who was the "group" that I belonged in at that particular moment as he railed against Chinese language signage in Richmond, or the enemies whom seemed in his mind to be destroying Canada by allowing non-white immigrants into the country. I'm not sure if the other recipients ever played this game of "Who am I in league with now...?" but it was at least a small entertainment. When you aren't actually in any real life cabals stalking the dark back rooms of power making secret plans to destroy the world, it is at least a small vicarious thrill to be imagined by "Brad" to be all-powerful and worthy of targeting. I would never consider hate mail a compliment, but at least it was a momentary respite from my own busy schedule to see whom else my busy little email stalker was also spamming.

After a few years of emails, however, even this little joy wore thin, especially as I began to realize that he really was angry. Occasionally, one of my friends would send me a note letting me know that on one of the blogs that "Brad" writes I had been accused of some thing or another--everything from being a racist against "white" Canadians to being an agent of Communist China. I have been told that some of these accusations would warrant a defamation suit, but his rantings seemed almost quaint and naïve, as if China was still the communist enemy of the Cold War. It was time, I thought, to delete him from my life. I went to my email settings to click the button that would send his messages into my spam filter. But I hesitated again, my mouse click hovering over...what? Why was I hesitating?

I went about my day's business--students, administrative meetings, research discussions--wondering in the back of my mind what had kept me from taking that relatively easy step of ignoring his emails. Was it because he was somehow dangerous and needed watching? Over the last year or so, others targeted by his emails and blogs have begun to become concerned that "Saltzberg" was being taken seriously in newspapers like the Vancouver Sun, as he continued to attack non-white immigrants and to speak for First Nations and Indigenous peoples on what they should want (as far as I could tell he thought that First Nations were as anti-immigrant as he was, while generously granting an exemption for "Euro-Canadians" like him, who really weren't immigrants in his mind...). He somehow managed, surprisingly, to bully SUCCESS into changing its Chinese language information signs--aimed at recent Chinese immigrants--into signage that contained English so people like him could also read about services for recent Chinese immigrants. Maybe he felt it was important that English-only readers could also access Chinese language services.

I thought about whether it was necessary that I add to an already long list of priorities in my life the job of keeping an eye on "Brad Saltzberg." Was that worthy of my time? Wasn't there something better and more productive and fruitful that I could do using the same amount of time that it would take to pay attention to him? After all, I surely could not be the only person in Canada who thought that his rantings were not even worth the effort of dismissing. I hope that the vast majority of Canadians are sensible enough to see through his rambling racism. If not, I reasoned, then the effort lay in having conversations with them, not him.

So why didn't I pull the trigger on sending "Brad" to spam exile?

I realized sometime that evening while playing with my kids that even though "Brad Saltzberg" was not worth listening to, somehow I could not take the final step of electronically ostracizing him because in his own bizarre way, he was a lost soul. He was already wandering in a purgatory, partly of his own making, but also one that had been bequeathed to him by the common history that I continued to share with him, along with all others in Canada that had been affected by our history of racism and white supremacy. He had taken that legacy and created his own deranged version of it--imagining himself one among many in a vast movement, a leader leading an army of redemption and revival. That this army was mainly a figment of his own imagination showed a canny cleverness in using the tools of the internet to pretend to himself and others that he was amongst friends. It was an illusion worth exposing, as Ian Young of the South China Morning Post finally did (a post that I have copied below). But it also seemed a delusion born of self-deception. After giving a cursory reading to so many of his unsolicited emails over the years, I knew that there was also a sad desperation on his part to be recognized, to be considered important. After so long howling alone to the wind, was it so surprising that he should yearn for someone to hear his cries? In his longing to be heard, to be listened to, he had made up his own fantasy friends, a group who would listen to him and discuss the weighty matters that he considered so important.

Perhaps that is why it was while playing with my own young children, who so naturally crave the attention of parents and loved ones, that I realized why I had not been able to exile this lost soul from my email inbox, despite all of the mean and spiteful things he had said about me and to me. There is an angry, lost child somewhere there in those desperate emails. As an adult (and not a child), he should not be encouraged by others giving in to his tantrums. But I have to admit that the lost petulant child behind his rantings makes me feel a sadness and pity for him.  I wish that he would find the acceptance and recognition he needs in some other way--perhaps volunteering for a charity, maybe even meeting some of the immigrants that he disdains so much would help him realize that they are fellow human beings and just as much deserving of being treated humanely as he himself is.

I hope that he will find peace somehow. Until then, I can only feel sorry for him, even as I bemoan the ugliness and inhumanity of what he is trying to do.

The original meaning of the word "pathetic" alluded to the feeling of pathos that a person could elicit in others. It has the same root as words such as "sympathy" and "empathy." For me to call "Brad Saltzberg" a "pathetic" figure would probably be misunderstood by many, but there is a way in which that term would not be too wrong a description.

It is ultimately a sad feeling, the pity that we feel for others, even if their suffering is from a world of their own making.

SCMP outed Bradley Saltzberg’s use of aliases to attack Vancouver mayoral hopeful Meena Wong; his own group has now disowned him
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 September, 2014, 3:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 September, 2014, 8:10pm
One of the most vocal critics of Asian immigration in Canada has been fired from the anti-multicultural group he helped found, after the South China Morning Post revealed he had been using fake identities to promote his agenda.
Bradley Saltzberg, one of the directors of Putting Canada First and its British Columbia regional spokesman, was dismissed for having "unnecessarily harmed the organisation through his inappropriate inclusion of race in his discussions, and his use of any unprofessional email techniques", PCF chairman Paul Bentley said, adding that Saltzberg had acted "deceptively".
Saltzberg has recently been targeting Olivia Chow and Meena Wong, two Hong Kong emigrants who are seeking the mayoralties of Toronto and Vancouver respectively. "Voters need to understand the ramifications of these two running Canada's two largest Anglophone cities," wrote Saltzberg in a recent PCF media statement. "Do voters really want two pro-multicultural, ethnocentric candidates running our largest cities? I don't, and from my direct experience, neither do most Canadians of European origin."
However, the South China Morning Post's Hongcouver blog revealed on September 18 that Vancouver-based Saltzberg had also been using two fake identities, "Pascal Brody" and "Paul Bradley", to send emails to dozens of journalists and politicians in support of his views about Wong, without specifically mentioning any connection to Saltzberg or PCF. Brody and Bradley were not merely pseudonymous email addresses; Brody described himself as a "Vancouver community activist" and Bradley responded to email queries in that name, at which point he suggested a journalist contact PCF because he was "not authorised to speak on these issues".
However, both ceased all communications after the Hongcouver blog asked them directly if they were, in fact, Saltzberg. They offered no denial. When asked about this, and confronted with evidence that Brody had been sending photos taken with Saltzberg's smartphone, Saltzberg claimed that both Brody and Bradley were "real people".
He said he knew both men and they supported his views, but was unable to describe their physical appearance. He said he could arrange for the pair to verify their existence via email, but when asked whether they could instead call or meet in person, said "that's probably not going to happen".
PCF posted a brief statement on its website on Friday: "Putting Canada First B.C. Representative Brad Saltzberg will no longer continue with the organisation, and a replacement will be sought shortly."
In an email, PCF chair Bentley said the group had "disassociated itself from Brad Saltzberg in light of his professional misconduct", although he said in a phone interview that he could not definitively state that Saltzberg used fake identities.
"Brad, who had been a member of PCF for several months, had received prior warning from the group regarding his non-compliance with communication protocols, and for undertaking his own interpretation of PCF policies as it relates to public communications. It is most unfortunate that Mr Saltzberg incorporated his personal viewpoints onto PCF," Bentley said by email.
Saltzberg has been by far PCF's most active member, sending hundreds of media statements on the group's behalf. His views have been widely cited by Canadian media.
Despite Bentley's description of Saltzberg as only a member of PCF, "although we did recently permit [him] to speak publicly as our B.C. Representative", Saltzberg is listed in corporate documents as a founding director of the group.
In his email and a subsequent interview on Saturday, Bentley rejected Saltzberg's linking of PCF's agenda to race and apologised. "Our organisation disagrees wholeheartedly with his personal viewpoints in this context, and his approach to act in any way deceptively," Bentley wrote.
"As a relatively new organisation, we are striving to ensure quality control with our members. This can sometimes be challenging, but we are creating safeguards to ensure that incidents like this do not recur," wrote Bentley, who is based in Hamilton, Ontario.
Saltzberg could not be reached for comment on his dismissal. However, in an interview last week, he said: "OK, I got it. No more fake identities, then." He later denied that this amounted to an admission he had employed such tactics.

Anti-multicultural group is pro-Canada, not racist, says chairman
Putting Canada First is a non-profit political organisation that has dedicated itself to challenging Canadian multiculturalism and large-scale immigration. 
Although the ousted British Columbia director of PCF, Brad Saltzberg, had vocally championed the rights of what he called “CEOs”, or Canadians of European Origin, in his media statements for the group, its chairman Paul Bentley said it was not the group’s intention to single out any race.
Bentley said by phone on Saturday that PCF opposed multiculturalism and the current scale of immigration to Canada, although it was not opposed to all immigration. It was not pro or anti any race but was pro-“Canadian culture”, he said. “I would like people to think that we are a very reasonable organisation, and that we are very reasonable people… We’re very Canadian in our approach,” Bentley said.
The group also advocates increased transparency in Canada’s trade negotiations.
He said PCF was primarily involved in conducting research, and that Saltzberg’s widespread media activities had “gotten away from us” and created an “understandable” but false impression that Saltzberg was the group’s primary participant.
Corporations Canada records show that the group was only officially incorporated on March 14 this year, with Saltzberg, Bentley, Dan Murray and Jacob Rivers listed as the founding directors. However, Bentley said the group had been working unofficially for a few years prior to Saltzberg’s involvement, and that its active membership numbered more than 100.
In a letter to Vancouver’s North Shore News in July, Bentley said it was inaccurate to suggest that PCF was invoking a “European Canada”. “We support a ‘Canadian Canada’, and we are not interested in creating European ethnic enclaves in Canada any more than we would support Filipino or Iranian enclaves,” he wrote.
Ian Young in Vancouver

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Film in Presenting the Past

Trailer for Chinese Canadian Stories Project (2010-2012)

All Our Father's Relations (teaser trailer) from Alejandro Yoshizawa on Vimeo.

Gold Mountain River: Exploring History on the Fraser

Gold Mountain River: Exploring History on the Fraser (Chinese version)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

UBC Student Carolyn Nakagawa's Introduction of Dr. Henry Sugiyama at the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Launch, Sept. 23, 2014

Delivered by UBC Student Carolyn Nakagawa at the Official Ceremony Honouring Dr. Henry Sugiyama as the First Student of the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Programme at UBC, September 23, 2014

If you’re wondering what my qualifications are for speaking here today (because I had to think about it myself), last year I co-coordinated a student-directed seminar on the Nisei poet and artist Roy Kiyooka, and I’m currently conducting a research project on the life and legacy of Nisei musician Harry Aoki. In 2012, my father, who is here today, was the alumni representative for the honorary degree ceremony for the students of ’42. So there’s been a number of coincidences that have brought me in contact with internment as an experience and a legacy in the two years since my grandmother passed away, that are indirectly connected to her own experience and my grandfather’s of forced relocation during the war.

The history I’ve been learning these past few years is the history of a generation – the wartime Nisei generation, whose experiences form a crisis point for Japanese Canadian history. My grandparents were among them, as were Roy Kiyooka, Harry Aoki, and Dr. Sugiyama. What this generation endured at the hands of the government has become what defines the entire history of the Japanese Canadian community, including how we experience it today. Learning about what happened, I feel like I’m uncovering things that have always been around me, in my own family, that I never properly noticed or understood. My grandparents never spoke about the war, or seemed to want to, to me or to their children. They didn’t seem to think it was important. But the more I read and learn, the more my understanding of my family and myself changes. I’ve realized that the fact that I am here – that I go to UBC and was born in Vancouver and grew up here, natural as it may seem – cannot be taken for granted.

For example, I keep coming across this explanation about Japanese Canadians not having the franchise before 1949, which meant not only that they couldn’t vote, but that they couldn’t be doctors, lawyers, politicians or pharmacists – and that always makes me pause, because my dad is a licensed pharmacist, and the registrar of the College of Pharmacists, which means he actually signs the licenses for all pharmacists in BC, and not only was that not possible for his father because he didn’t economically have access to that kind of education, but even if he had, it wouldn’t have been legal. I think it’s incredible that my grandparents came back to Vancouver after being chased into the interior. I think it’s amazing that, even while they put it behind them and acted like it wasn’t worth talking about, there were others in the community who fought for years until the government gave them compensation. And I’m very proud to belong to a tradition of people as hardworking as my grandparents and as committed to social justice as those who disagreed with them. I’m glad to be a part of welcoming Dr. Sugiyama today because I get to engage with that tradition and not just passively inherit it.

I say I inherit it because I am a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian, and learning about this history I do get the sense that it belongs to me, something I’m able to recognize even if I never knew it before. But I don’t think it’s only my inheritance. It’s the inheritance of everyone who chooses to live or work or study here because “here” is such a fraught and complex term. When I say “here” I mean Vancouver or the Lower Mainland or Canada or UBC in varying contexts; the more I learn about all the places I am in the more I realize that it took a series of atrocities and a series of incredible achievements to bring each and every one of us here. For me I think about the fact that this is Musqueam land, first of all, and my grandparents were forced to leave here in 1942 but they came back and my father was born here and went to UBC. And I am at UBC now, and it was never questioned that I would go here or that I have every right to be here. But that’s not to be taken for granted. Even with that, people look at my face and still don’t believe me when I say I am from here. As much as things seem to change, and do, the past doesn’t disappear. Dr. Sugiyama’s history with UBC may not have stopped him, but it hasn’t disappeared. We here today all inherit that legacy, and what we do with it is the question we’ll be asking in Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies.

Keiko Mary Kitagawa speaking about what led to the honouring of Dr. Henry Sugiyama

Dr. Henry Sugiyama sharing his story

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A UBC Student at Last...

Dr. Henry Sugiyama Finally Admitted to the University of British Columbia (news stories from the Globe and Mail, the Province, and the Ubyssey)

At 87, Henry Sugiyama is finally going to arrive on the campus of the University of British Columbia the way he had hoped to as a teenager. As a student.
In 1942, when Dr. Sugiyama was 15, he and his family were among the 21,000 Japanese-Canadians who were removed from B.C.’s coastal areas under the cover of Canada’s War Measures Act. After relocating to Kamloops, the star student continued high school, and his teachers encouraged him to write entrance exams to UBC. He won a scholarship, but UBC rejected his application. The war was over, but Japanese-Canadians had been presented with a choice: move away from the coast or go to Japan. The teen could not live on or near the UBC campus. The only university that would take him was the University of Manitoba, where he earned a medical degree.
“I was lucky in a way. UBC did not have a medical program at the time. If I had gone there, I would not have become a doctor,” Dr. Sugiyama said.
On Tuesday, Dr. Sugiyama will attend the first class in a new program in Asian Canadian and Asian Migration studies. Its opening completes the promises the university made to recognize its role in the province’s internment policy, first awarding honorary degrees to 76 students who did not finish their diplomas as a result of the removals, and vowing to preserve and teach the history of that time.
The program is not a form of atonement, although with courses such as Chinese Migration, it memorializes the experiences of those who Canada has at times shunned. Instead, it will try to teach students that choices are always available: to speak against exclusion or to abet it.
“It’s not about just remembering the past. It’s not about, ‘You should feel guilty, you should feel bad.’ That is actually a bankrupt form of historical thinking in my mind,” said Henry Yu, a history professor at UBC who was a member of the committee that organized the granting of the honorary degrees. “We are trying to have our students look around and say, ‘Who am I? Am I Ellis Morrow or am I Gordon Shrum?’”
Prof. Morrow was one of the few people on campus in the 1940s who spoke against the removals, helping his students finish degrees by correspondence. Mr. Shrum was a senior university administrator who played a part in the decision to go further than the government’s removal order and strip students in Canadian Officer Training Corps of their designation.
“We can’t tell right now which way you should act, but what you can do is think about the past and not just dismiss and say everyone was racist and now we’re not any more,” Dr. Yu said. “What work do we need to do, in maybe the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the way we deal with First Nations? What is a temporary foreign worker, how are we treating Filipino nannies? What is it to be a just society?”
Dr. Sugiyama said the experience of removal affected his whole life. His father eventually rebuilt parts of his business, working in the fishing industry as an exporter. After finishing medical school, Dr. Sugiyama moved to Toronto and worked in the city’s Cabbagetown area at a time when its name was still identified with illness, overcrowding and poverty.
“At the time, it was a slum area, I wanted to give back,” he said.
Some things about the choices adults made he will never understand. Why his teachers in Kamloops, for example, raised his hopes. “I don’t know why they encouraged me to write the exams. They did not do anything to help me after.”
His daughter was awarded the Order of Canada for her achievements as a lawyer and for civic engagement, so the country has changed, Dr. Sugiyama said, even as he believes some groups are still disadvantaged, particularly aboriginal students.
The director of the new UBC program, Chris Lee, says students enrolling have only to look on campus to understand the program’s continuing relevance. Students who are struggling with English, for example, are still stigmatized. “Like many Canadian universities, our students have family histories that have migration in them. This program is a way of recognizing that our students lead global lives.”
Former ‘enemy of the state,’ Dr. Henry Sugiyama is first student of UBC's new Asian Canadian studies program

Dr. Henry Sugiyama poses with his daughter Constance, and wife Joanne.

Dr. Henry Sugiyama, 69 years after being denied entry at UBC because although Canadian he was of Japanese descent, has become the first student admitted in the university’s new program in Asian Canadian studies.
He went on to become a doctor, run a successful practice in Toronto and raise a family. The 87-year-old is now retired.
In high school in Kamloops, where the family had moved after being forced off the West Coast in 1942, Sugiyama earned an entrance scholarship to UBC.
It was 1945 and the war had just ended, but Japanese Canadians were to be considered “enemy aliens” until 1949.
UBC rejected him, as did the universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The University of Manitoba accepted him into medicine, despite the huge number of war veterans returning who had been granted free education benefits.
“The Second World War ended that summer and I was no longer an ‘enemy of the state,’” Sugiyama said. “There was no real reason why UBC couldn’t take me.
“To this day, I cannot fail to admire the courage of the admission committee of the U of M for accepting an ‘enemy alien’ when so many other Canadian universities found it so easy to simply refuse.”
His father and mother arrived in Vancouver in 1912 and built up a handful of businesses.
In 1942, the family — along with more than 21,000 Japanese Canadians forced out of their homes on the West Coast by the federal War Measures Act — was uprooted to Kamloops.
“My father, who was a successful businessman, had all his properties confiscated,” Sugiyama said, “including his home, cameras, radios, automobiles, his fleet of six large fishing boats and three companies dealing with the fishing industry.”
Sugiyama was a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at Templeton Junior High at the time and had fulfilled all the requirements to earn the school’s highest award, the Silver T, but the school claimed he had been expelled and never gave it to him.
After writing two letters to the school, however, in 2013 he received a small banner to take the place of the Silver T and a copy of a commencement speech by the principal, Aaron Davis, acknowledging the “shameful act” committed by Templeton in 1942.
Sugiyama received the letter on Dec. 7 last year, 72 years to the day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
His father, he said, “never gave up his love for this country and never gave up hope that his family would succeed and make a better country.”
As if to reaffirm that sentiment, Sugiyama’s daughter Constance, a lawyer, was in 2013 appointed a member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to the Japanese Canadian community.
From enemy alien to Canada’s highest civilian honour in one lifetime: Sugiyama said he knows his late father would be proud.