For Paul Yee, the past is always contained in the present. And as part of the Chinese-Canadian community, that often means tales of the railroad and its Chinese builders. Yee’s 1996 Governor General’s Literary Award-winning young adult novel, Ghost Train, follows a young girl from China to North America in search of her father, a railroad builder. Yee says: The more I learn about Chinese people, whether they live in North America, China or elsewhere in the world, the more I learn about experiences that affect me. I say this because people see I am Chinese right away, no matter where I am. Often, they make assumptions about me. For example:
“He doesn’t speak English.”
“He doesn’t speak Chinese.”
“He’s an immigrant.”
“He know a lot about Chinese food.”
“He’s going to complain about racism.”When I was a child, growing up in the 1960s, there were no books about my world–the world of immigrants, racial minorities, and different histories. I had to learn about these things much later in life. My books mirror images of Chinese people back to themselves. Such books can reassure those in North American that it is valid to be different from the “mainstream.” As well, the books let Chinese in North America see themselves, and each other, from new and different angles.