I was not quite a year old when my family immigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver. I did not speak English until I was three. In kindergarten, I was kicked out of ESL class. I’m part of a subgroup of our society who are immigrants, but grew up as Canadian as Double-Doubles.
Being raised in Vancouver by immigrant parents was a dichotomous experience and gives me a unique perspective on how things work in our city.
As a child, I never really felt racism.
The schools I attended had high percentages of Asians in their student populations. Sure, there was the use of “Hongers” to describe our classmates who were newer to Canada, but I never felt the term applied to me. I didn’t realize at the time how wrong it was to be classifying others that way.
Indeed, I was part of the minority privileged – those equally fluent in Cantonese and English — and easily able to switch between our ethnic and social identities. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I started to really examine racism in Vancouver.
The impetus of this is a vague memory now…
I was standing in a public space. There was a middle-aged Caucasian man standing nearby. There was a dispute happening about twenty feet away involving a couple of Mandarin-speaking men. The Caucasian man made a comment about how uncouth they were, then turned to me and added, “Oh, but I know you’re not that kind of Chinese.” I was so stunned by his statement that I didn’t know how to respond.
Reflecting upon it now, and as horrible as this sounds, there is a hierarchy of Chinese descendants. Those in Hong Kong and Taiwan get terribly offended if others think they are from the Mainland. Interminority racism amongst the ethnic Chinese is real, and it’s ferocious. Recent trends and news regarding Vancouver’s real estate industry has brought it bubbling to the surface. And taking what the Caucasian man said to me to heart, more people than I imagined are now able to identify where someone’s homeland is.
In all the years since moving to Vancouver, I have not felt racism as much as I do now.
When the actions of a few come to represent an entire race, there is bound to be assumption and blame.
The Chinese in me says to give them a little more time to acclimate, but the Canadian in me believes they need to make an effort to fit in better. The truth is, I have worked with, and encountered, many Mainland Chinese who are wonderful people; who do not drive supercars and live in multi-million dollar mansions, but are smart, hardworking, and humble.
I just wish I didn’t need to remind myself of this quite so often.