Paul Wong, 2000
4 mins. color, stereo
and photo billboard

Tape 1: Class of 2000 (30 sec.)
Tape 2: I Am Refugee (60 sec.)
Tape 3: Refugee Prisoner’s Lament (2 min.)

The Refugee Class of 2000 are  three TV ads produced as part of the Unite Against Racism campaign mounted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. These ads started airing nationally on Jan 15. 2000. Paul was one of five film/video artists commissioned by the foundation.

The central subjects are thirty four Grade 12 students from the  graduating class of 2000 of  Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School. Tupper is in a working class  culturally diverse neigbourhood in Vancouver. Many of the student are first generation born Canadians. Grad students were chosen as the demographic group,  they straddle two centuries, the violent racist past and representing the hopes and dreams of a better future in the new multicultural world.

The students make six statements: “My name is, I was born, I am a refugee , I am a and I want to be”.  The voices and faces are intercut with pictures, words,  graphics and images depicting racist sexist, political, religious social unrest. The tape  juxtaposes historical acts of institutionalized racism with current events. The concept was inspired by the recent arrival of refugees on the BC coast and by the racially motivated intolerance shown to the Chinese boat people.

The use of everyday racial, sexist and homophobic  slurs  are presented as equal culprits in how we as a society construct and enforce stereotypes. The aim is to jolt viewers to think about ‘polite racism’ as being just as insidious as more overt forms “we must try to forgive what is past” and “zero tolerance” are the last words to appear, many of the quotes appearing in the tapes are adapted from speeches by Her Excellency Adrienne Clarkson Governor General of Canada.

“Paul Wong’s thought provoking Class of 2000 (3 channel video, 2000) presents Grade 12 students from multicultural Sir Charles Tupper School making brief personal statements as racial stereotypes replace their faces while racist slurs fly out at the viewer. As an Indo-Canadian male student says, “I am a Sikh,” a cartoon portrait of a turbaned Indian replaces his face and the word “spade” flies out at the observer at rapid speed to highlight the pain and hurt felt by the victim from acts of institutionalized racism and xenophobia prevalent today in Canadian society. This work was produced for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Unite Against Racism television campaign. Messages intended to educate such as, ‘ We can leave behind the useless blood calls of generations’, ‘ Equality for All’, ‘Make this a better place through your actions’, and ending with ‘See people for who they really are’ provide a healing antidote to the poison of racism. I am deeply moved by this video work and specially by the message urging us to look beyond social categories of race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation to see the person for who they really are no different from us. Another video presents the refugee’s lament, “ To come to this far away land we suffered and risked our lives. In this civilized country, I could not have imagined we would end up being treated this way. You saved us to be locked in your prison…..” Film footage of a boat of Chinese migrants from Fujian Province that arrived on the West Coast in 1999 is shown along with text art of emotionally loaded words ( jobs, oppression….), phrases (institutional racism, polite racism, snake heads, human rights…) and a plea, ‘Don’t send me back says Fujian woman.’ This work also references our country’s long racist past: the Chinese Exclusion Act (head tax) and the deportation and internment of Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War. At the end GG Adrienne Clarkson asks us to try to forgive the past. We need apologies to help us forgive past wrongs done to us. However, we should not forget the past, lest history repeats itself. Instead we should critically reflect on the past to learn lessons from the Komagata Maru incident and the Fujian boat people amongst others to prevent such tragic incidences from ever happening again in Canada.” – Mandeep Wirk, Punjabi Patrika

Distributor: Vtape, Video Out