Reel NW

Japanese-Canadian Interracial Marriage: Echoes of the Internment

From "One Big Hapa Family" (sequence by Louise Johnson)

Canada is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and it’s getting more so. In 2006 Statistics Canada reported that the number of mixed marriages or common-law unions – where one member was from a visible minority group – had increased by 33 percent since 2001. In the Reel NW film One Big Hapa Family," Japanese-Canadian filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns wants to find out why there has been such a high rate of interracial marriage in his own family.

Stearns's journey takes him back to the internment of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia during World War II, a grim experience that affected how successive generations sought to assimilate into Canadian culture. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, an astounding 22,000 Japanese were rounded up and sent to camps out of fear that they could be spies or collaborators. Their property taken from them, Japanese families were broken apart. Men were sent to road camps, while women and children were taken to towns in the British Columbia interior, where they lived in poor, cramped conditions.

Even with the end of the war in 1945, discrimination against Japanese didn't stop. Nearly 4,000 Japanese, many of them citizens, were repatriated to Japan. It wasn't until 1949 that the majority of Japanese Canadians could return to British Columbia, though by then many had chosen to live elsewhere.

See a collection of pictures from the period of Japanese-Canadian internment in British Columbia on our Facebook page, here.


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