Foon Hay Lum is a renowned and well respected Chinese Canadian activist who at 111 years old passed away from COVID-19 on the evening of April 24 at the Mon Sheong Homes for the Aged. Lum is one of Canada’s oldest women and her life is a legacy of work advocating for the empowerment of Chinese Canadians.
Lum was instrumental in securing an apology and compensation from the Canadian Government in 2006 for all Chinese Canadians who paid the head tax, with the then Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper making an apology in the House of Commons. Lum herself was in the House of Commons on that momentous that day to personally witness the apology being made. She lived through the Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act 1923 which caused her to be separated from her husband for more than 30 years. Sadly, her death sees her final separation from her family due to the ban on visitors to long-term-care homes, and she wasn’t able to be with her family.
Lum spent most of her life talking about issues of racism and was not afraid to get real about it, as former National President for the Chinese Canadian National Council Amy Go stated (via The Star). This is an organization, which Lum was a founding member.
“Many people felt embarrassed and ashamed and didn’t want to talk about racism. But this was never a problem for her.
“You have to remember what generation she was a part of,” said Go. “That strength she had to name something that was wrong and to take action, that for me was amazing courage.”
Lum’s life reads like a story of love, loss, regret and then new beginnings. Her life of activism for the betterment of Chinese Canadians started when she was 60 years old. Born in 1908 in Xinhui, Guangdong, China, Lum married Chinese Canadian immigrant Nam Jack Lum when she was 18 years of age, when Nam Jack returned to China to find a bride. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act 1923, Lum couldn’t follow her husband Nam Jack who had to return to Canada to keep his immigration status. This legislated racism against the Chinese ended in 1947. However, Nam Jack had to work hard in a Toronto laundry and it it took him another 7 years before he saved up enough to return to China to reunite with Lum and they stayed together in Xinhui for 3 years where they had two children. He then had to return to Canada again and it was another 2-3 more years before Lum and her two kids could migrate to Canada to be fully reunited as a family. This took 33 years all up. Sadly, 12 years after the family was reunited in Toronto, Nam Jack passed away. Over their 45-year marriage, that 12 years was their longest period together.
What a life and a legacy Lum left behind. Loved by all who knew her within the Chinese Canadian community, her legacy will continue on and the memories of her life will never be forgotten.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.