The UBC Library and the Chapman Learning Commons held a symposium last week called Red Tails and Dragon Tales. The symposium, held at the UBC Irving K. Barber Learning Centre on June 28, 2013, brought together Chinese-Canadian and African-American (Tuskegee Airmen) WWII veterans to share their stories about their WWII experiences and the impact their service had on their country. Although these two groups of WWII veterans faced discrimination, their military contributions were instrumental to helping the Allies win the war and also to changing societal attitudes in their home countries. While most of their ranks have passed away, a few remaining veterans, now mostly in their late 80s and 90s, met to share their stories.
During WWII, the Tuskegee airmen were the first group of African-American aviators to fly in combat for the US armed forces. At the time, the American military was still racially segregated. Many felt African-Americans lacked the intelligence and skill to perform anything beyond basic, menial tasks in military duty. Despite this segregation and prejudice, the Tuskegee Airmen went on to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups in the war. They were dubbed “the Red Tails” after one fighter group painted their P47s and later P51s with a red tail.
Meanwhile here in Canada, men and women of Chinese descent, who were born in Canada, were not allowed to vote. As well, the 1923 Exclusion Act was still in effect. That Act essentially banned Chinese Immigration to Canada. Despite this discrimination, when the WWII broke out, Chinese men and women volunteered in the hundreds to fight for Canada. They enlisted in every branch of the armed forces and participated in every theatre of war. The result: on May 14, 1947 Chinese-Canadians were finally granted the right to vote.
The opening symposium featured a panel comprised of the Tuskegee Airmen and Chinese-Canadian veterans who shared their personal stories, followed by a question and answer period.
To find out more about the other events commemorating this historic summit, please visit http://www.ccmms.ca/features/