WONG, May Q.

Author Tags: Chinese

In her family memoir, A Cowherd in Paradise Brindle & Glass (2012), May Q. Wong recounts how perseverance and forgiveness can overcome politics and geography. The book chronicles the lives of her parents, Wong Guey Dang (1902–1983) and Jiang Tew Thloo (1911–2002.) Married for over half a century, the couple was forced to live apart for twenty-five years because of Canada’s exclusionary immigration laws. In China, Ah Thloo struggled to survive through natural disasters, wars, and revolutions; in Canada, Ah Dang overcame discrimination to become a successful Montreal restaurateur. A Cowherd in Paradise is the moving tale of one couple’s search for love, family, and forgiveness. 978-1-926972-40-4

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada

[See review]

PHOTO: Thloo and Dang, May Wong's parents

[BCBW 2012]

A Cowherd in Paradise
Review (2012)

On June, 22, 2006, opening with a few phrases in Cantonese, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for Canada’s anti-Chinese immigration policies in the House of Commons.

Since the 1980s, the Chinese-Canadian National Council had been seeking monetary redress for so-called Head Tax restrictions for Chinese immigrants, dating back to 1885—a century before.

The federal government was willing to afford compensation of $20,000 to anyone still living who had paid a head tax, or to the living spouse of any head-tax payer, but sons and daughters would not be compensated.

The Chinese community was less than thrilled. Most people who had paid a head tax were dead. The redress movement for Japanese Canadians incarcerated during World War II had arguably been far more successful and nearly all Chinese Canadians, such as May Q. Wong, understood that head tax laws were only part of Canada’s racist policies towards Chinese Canadians.

Specifically, in 1923, Canada had introduced the Chinese Immigration Act, essentially banning most would-be immigrants from China. Married in China in 1929, May Q. Wong’s parents Wong Guey Dang (1902-1983) and his bride Jiang Tew Thloo (1911-2002) subsequently lived on different continents for twenty-five years, as she describes in A Cowherd in Paradise (Brindle & Glass $24.95).

Chinese immigrants to Canada were not processed under the same regulations as other would-be immigrants until 1967. Consequently May Q. Wong has written a heart-wrenching account of parents’ half-century marriage, including their painful and humiliating wedding night during which her father struck her mother with his belt for her non-compliance with his marital rights.

Sold as a child, Ah Dang was sent to Canada in 1921 after his adoptive father who paid the $500 head tax. Eight years later, Ah Dang returned to China, having selected Ah Thloo as his bride from a matchmaker’s photo. Ah Thloo did not get to see the face of her husband until after the marriage ceremony. Their disastrous deflowering ritual initially made separation easy.

From the age of six, Ah Thloo had been responsible for her family’s fortune—their precious water buffalo—and that accounts for the title of this family memoir. While Ah Thloo remained in China, her husband Ah Dang became a successful Montreal restaurateur. Their prolonged struggle for matrimonial harmony, including the need for forgiveness, has been rendered with compelling honesty by Wong, who includes reportage of document falsifications.

Wong asks her father why he came to Canada. “Na-ting for me in China,” he says. “In Canada, I find job, sometime very bad job, but in China, no work for no body. Too many war in China, all de time fighting! Canada peacefoo place. But I don’t forget, I Chinee, my family Chinee. I still love China. But now Canada my home… One ting I leglet; my family in China so long without me. We have no chance to be family together. Dat why Ah May [daughter] so plecious to me and her mommy.”

[Alan Twigg / 2012]