Chinese Canadian Heroine Who Lived During Chinese Exclusion Act Dies at 111 From COVID-19

Foon Hay Lum

The COVID-19 pandemic has just claimed another hero.

Foon Hay Lum, a beloved advocate for the empowerment of Chinese Canadians, died from complications of the virus on the evening of April 24 at the Mon Sheong Homes for the Aged, reports The Star.

She was 111 years old.

Born in 1908 in Xinhui, Guangdong, China, Foon Hay had lived a long and fruitful life, but not without some hardships along the way.

When she was 18, Foon Hay married Chinese Canadian immigrant Nam Jack Lum who returned to China to find a bride. When Nam Jack returned to Canada to keep his immigration status, Foon Hay was left behind as the Chinese Exclusion Act 1923 prevented her from following him.

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Due to this legislated racism, the couple would not be able to reunite until over 30 years later. While the Act ended in 1947, it took Nam Jack seven years more before he could save enough money as a launderer to reunite with Foon Hay in China.

The couple stayed together in Xinhui for three years and had two children. After those three years, Nam Jack was forced to return to Canada and had to wait another 2-3 more years before Foon Hay and their two kids could follow him. Nam Jack passed away about 12 years later in Toronto.

When Foon Hay was 60 years old, she began her advocacy in pushing for the betterment of Chinese Canadians. Over the years that followed, Foon Hay earned recognition and praise for leading the fight against racism.

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Among Foon Hay’s remarkable achievements include lobbying for redress for all Chinese Canadians who paid the $500 Head Tax from 1885 and 1923, along with“more than 20 years of speaking to seniors in community centres, to politicians and to the media.”

When the then Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper issued an official apology to Chinese Canadians in 2006, Lum was in the House of Commons to witness the historic event.

Lum, who was a founding member of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), received a touching tribute from the organization’s former National President Amy Go.

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“Many people felt embarrassed and ashamed and didn’t want to talk about racism,” Go was quoted saying. “But this was never a problem for her. You have to remember what generation she was a part of. That strength she had to name something that was wrong and to take action, that for me was amazing courage.”

Feature Image via Jessica Bell

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