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Sid Chow Tan, A Community History Project by No One Is Illegal


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No One Is Illegal-Vancouver Coast Salish Territories presents an interview with Sid Chow Tan as part of "Inheriting Resistance: A Community History Project". For more information:

Sid Tan was born in China in 1949 and immigrated to Canada in 1950 with
his grandmother, following the repeal of Chinese exclusion. Sid was raised
on Main Street in Battleford Saskatchewan, is a graduate of the University
of Calgary, and has resided for over thirty-five years in Saltwater City
Vancouver. Growing up the youngest in the only Chinese family in town, his
politics is informed by a life of anti-racism and social justice activism,
occasionally resulting in civil disobedience and arrest.

He has put in over two decades of work in redress for the Chinese head tax
and exclusion laws and has also dedicated his time to community media and
a myriad of human and environmental rights issues. His current community
service includes: national chairperson of the Chinese Canadian National
Council; the founding and current president of ACCESS Association of
Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society and Head Tax
Families Society of Canada; a founding and current director of the
Downtown Eastside Community Arts Network Society, Downtown Eastside
Neighbourhood Council, W2 Social Enterprise Café Society, National Anti-
Racism Council of Canada and Community Media Education Society; and a
director of the Slim Evans Society and W2 Community Media Arts Society.

Sid is a father to an adult son and daughter and is a grandfather. Favourite
saying: "My art is activism. My trade is organising."


I was illegal in this country. When I arrived in this country I arrived as an illegal immigrant. As I got older I recognized that my brother (my adopted brother) and I could be deported at any time. This after our family had been in North America since the advent of the California Gold Rush in 1849. And yet it is only my children, who were born in 1973 and 1975, who are the first in our family to be born in North America. That is after 100 odd years.

That tells you what exclusion and Head Tax and racist immigration policies can do. My grandparents suffered that. My grandmother and grandfather were separated from 25 years by a racist law. My grandfather paid a headtax which was the equivalent of two houses when he came here. You could buy two houses for $500.

As I got involved in these issues, these issues changed my life. I re-arranged my life so I could continue to participate and what you could call be sort of one of the leaders in the movement. I became self-employed. I learnt skills to be a media producer. I learnt skills to be a community organizer. All these things I had to do when I got involved.

For young people I would say, this is your world. You know you are the future, get involved. But get involved with the idea of contributing. And get involved when you have your bases covered. And when I say that - don't count on the movement or what you are getting into to provide your basics.

The two campaigns that I put about 25-30 years into is the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Redress Campaign and also community television. I joined the Redress Campaign in 1983 and community televsion in 1986.