Gladys Tsang, Guest Contributor

Racism in the 604

Image: JoSon

Image: JoSon

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.

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  • Reply Tina October 5, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Just last night we were discussing this exact topic and there is a consensus that many feel that after fabulous decades of blending and cooperating and welcoming …so much so that we don’t even SEE racial differences anymore and our kids don’t either…. there has been a shift. To resentment? To a lack of TRYING to blend in? Is that what it is? Or frustration? I heard: “why are all these people outside the school speaking mandarin?” or “why do those 3 stores have chinese writing and NO ENGLISH writing?” I fear there is a change in the air. I fear it. I fear it for many reasons. I come from a family of immigrants myself, albeit European. But my grandmother’s degree wasn’t honoured. She had to work multiple jobs as did my grandfather. But they did whatever they could to “fit in.”

  • Reply Jody Vance October 5, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Tina, thank you for being brave, bold and uncensored with your comment. This is what #mybackyard is about. Talking about each point of view, without fear of being “taken wrong”. Everyone has there POV. Yours is valid. This is a very broad topic, worthy of more perspective and introspection. Let’s continue to discuss here. Let’s have a frank discussion about coming to Canada and becoming Canadians. Sharing culture is key, celebrated, wanted…..racism is rampant because there is a feeling that there’s a change of Canadian culture. (as you mentioned, the hot-button issue of non-english signage). There is a lot to discuss here.

  • Reply Ben Lu October 12, 2016 at 11:54 am

    To answer Glady’s blog here, social bias is never going away. I do agree that for a better society, all members need to play a part. If you sense discomfort on the other side, you can reach out and say ‘hi’. Uncouth people exist in all cultures. Just look at the US election now and how much more we do need to say? Being European descent or Hong Kong/Taiwan immigrants doesn’t make you a cut above. But being accepting, patient and understanding will make us better hosts. I’ve lived in three continents and have been subject to many overt and subtle forms of racism bias. I always speak up, a couple times to my own peril (including a cut on me head in the East End of London and two stitches afterwards). And also imagine yourself being in a completely foreign environment: the trepidation and massive amount of adjustments. They all require time to go through. Parts of us may never ‘fit in’. Like I still like my own taste of music, still watch EPL and still read my Chinese martial art novels and off beat British ones. But I have the language to communicate and the confidence to express myself. Many newer immigrants don’t have that tool, yet. Their kids will. Their grand kids will. And I can guarantee their kids and future generations will contribute as much, if not more, to the betterment of Canada.

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