Sojourners



Men going westward with hopes of a penny
To a land where adventure was offered aplenty
Their whole lives all bundled up tightly with cloth
Each day on the steamer mourned their homeland far off

They’d left their families and children; their lives for a chance
Suffering confinement and horror below decks
Turning their faces away from everything they knew
Set forth enduring hardships, their hopes and dreams true

They left Pearl River Delta holding fast to these dreams
Guandong was hellish, at odds with nature it seemed
Heading for the gold rush these first settlers came
But resentment was growing, ‘sojourners’ by name

Finding their way to the muddy Fraser River
They put away fancy; they’d lost their gold fever
They manhandled ‘graph poles, and dug canals, too
And carved out a wagon road that was the Cariboo

But each lonely night saw them gaze away East
With the scent of the Orient on every breeze
Hopes for their families on far distant shores
Steeled their lonesome hearts against hatred galore

Canada needed tracks to cover the breadth of the land
But ‘right thinking’ people piously took a stand
They wanted their stamp on this nation instead
And made up new laws, taxing an immigrant’s head

But while the State rambled and rioted late
Construction began; a country’s dreams wouldn't wait
So they took up the jobs that right men won't do
Cutting ravines and gullies, risky tunneling, too

All for minimum pay, a pittance to send home
In hopes for a future, not living it alone
But they died in the rivers, in tunnels caved in
From too much explosives, then winter set in

And with weather too harsh for right men to bear
They sent in sojourners, their loss no one cared
In 1884 when the last spike hit home
Only ‘right thinking’ people had their hardships intoned

As eastern cars moved to the land in the west
Eyes averted from those who had withstood the test
And the CPR boasted, their chests out and proud
Not a thank you directed to the sojourner crowd

They had battled the land, had fed it their blood
Should have had accolades given in brotherhood
But the right thinking men and their right thinking ways
Wielding the government’s club instead made them pay

In the end, the price for immigrant souls to die here
Was too high a burden, inequity clear
Standing en masse more than a hundred years passed
Retribution was warranted, atonement was asked

The Government thought long and hard it is true
Counting history’s bounty, the years they were two
Years of hard labor, humiliation and sacrifice
Were not enough to admit wrong and pay the price

But although the sojourners are not ‘them’ but now ‘us’
And help build this country strong, still there’s a ruse
The head tax is gone but racism runs free
Hidden in looks and a conditional ‘landing fee’

© by Trish Shields
090703



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