Thursday, December 13, 2018

Crean and Levine: histories of boundaries and alliances

Susan Crean's Finding Mr Wong is a personal memoir -- with a lot of research behind it -- into her family's long relationship with her grandparents' Chinese houseboy. Allan Levine's Seeking the Fabled Kingdom (currently longlisted for the Charles Taylor nonfiction prize) is a survey of the Jewish experience in Canada. I've mentioned each before, but in reading them both I was struck by some overlaps in theme and example.

Levine notes the many instances of antisemitism and xenophobic prejudice that complicated the progress of Jews in Canada over the centuries. Similarly, Crean vividly describes the prejudice, isolation, and hardship faced by a young man who paid the head tax to come to Canada in 1911 -- rather, had it paid for him by a relative, and then had to spend years working it off -- and who worked as a "houseboy" in well-to-do Forest Hill from 1928 to 1966.

But both authors are alert to the odd cross-cultural alliances and respect that could develop across racial and cultural boundaries. Levine keeps coming across partnerships that went beyond simply tolerance among Jews and non-Jews.  He declares
Whether Canadians want to admit it or not, at the heart of Jewish history in Canada, or at least hovering over it, is a frequently unrelenting antisemitism that has impacted the lives of generations of Canadian Jews
and yet identifies situations over many years where individual gentiles declined to participate in well-entrenched prejudices of their neighbours.

Crean, for her part, explores a curious complex "family" relationship that endured between the well-to-do Irish Canadian Creans and Mr Wong, one that spread across generations and continued after he left their employment and retired to Toronto's Chinatown.
However I characterize the partnership, Mr Wong was still the employee and Gramp his boss.  Tehy maintained a formality.  Yet over time bonds developed.  There were things they shared....
I don't feel up to to mansplaining intersectionality here. But if people can suffer discrimination on the basis of any of a variety of attributes, maybe they can also bridge differences on some of them too.

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