Being an international student from Vietnam, I have always been aware of my positionality as an outsider in British Columbia. When coming to the screening of All Our Father's Relations — a 2016 documentary which explores the relationship between the Musqueam people and early Chinese immigrants to BC — I came with an open mind and heart to learn as a newcomer. The documentary's emotive representation of marginalization, reconciliation and intergenerational connection left me feeling sad and angry, yet hopeful.
All Our Father's Relations is a documentary directed by UBC film professor Dr. Alejandro Yoshizawa, who has been known for his work in documentaries, oral history and digital media. Yoshizawa co-produced with public historian Sarah Ling, a UBC alum who received an interdisciplinary Master’s degree in Chinese Canadian and Musqueam history.
The documentary centres Musqueam Elder Larry Grant — UBC First Nations and Endangered Languages professor and Elder-in-Residence at the First Nations House of Learning — and his siblings as they travel from Vancouver to China to uncover their paternal roots. very cool It also brings up the conversations around their family struggles and the challenges Chinese immigrants and Indigenous people in BC face due to racism and marginalization.
Their father was a Chinese migrant who came to Vancouver on the Empress of Asia ship in the early 20th century. He settled at the reserve area in BC, starting farming and integrating with the community there, and then married a Musqueam woman.
Things all changed when their families were separated due to the Indian Act, and their father moved to Chinatown while their mother remained on the reserve. The documentary unfolds many similar stories of the identity crisis and loss caused by racism and colonialism.
When talking about the Grant’s childhood memories, the producers use a sunset colour palette and voiceover narration, which emphasizes the Grant siblings’ connection to their personal and intergenerational histories. When it comes to expressing distressing racialized traumas, such as the family’s separation, the scenes become darker, soundtracked by slow, operatic violin. This created a space for viewers to reflect and connect to their own experiences, granting the unique story of the Grant siblings universal resonance without erasing its specificity.
The documentary ends on a beautiful and emotional note. Retold through close-up shots and interviews to emphasize the personal connection, the Grant siblings finally reconnect with their paternal relatives, learning about their roots, their culture and embrace it as part of their identity.
All Our Father's Relations is not just the story of the Grant family: It provides a closer look at all the detrimental effects of Canadian government policy on Indigenous and Chinese immigrant communities. They have been denied the rights to cherish their family backgrounds, their communities, and above all, their identities.
Looking at all the black and white frames flashing through my eyes, I also felt that pain and anger. I was fortunate enough to have not experienced the same trauma, but as a person growing up from a small town in Vietnam, I can relate to the experience of being excluded and subject to false assumptions and stereotypes, sometimes from the people in my own country.
Combating those false assumptions begins with collaborating to understand ourselves in relation to our past and to our community, which All Our Father’s Relations accomplishes.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Yoshizawa, Ling and Grant, focusing on the documentary’s significance to the Chinese immigrant and Musqueam communities in BC.
At the panel discussion, Ling described the documentary as a “collaborative document” of not only the production crew, but also the Grant family, who contributed to the animated scenes of the documentary.
By bridging distinct understandings of the past, perhaps we can forge a common vision of the future.