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Price—simple as that. It was the cheapest place for us to buy a house. We didn’t want to go to Burnaby because it was expensive, but we didn’t want to go all the way out to Surrey or Delta [more distant Vancouver suburbs] because that was too far.
Among the eight Japanese-Canadian residents who had made a decision to move to Richmond, housing price was mentioned by each one as a key factor influencing their choice of location. As with Caucasian and Chinese residents, Richmond’s affordability offered Japanese participants the ability to satisfy dreams of home ownership and starting a family, as explained by this man in his thirties who, in conjunction with his wife, decided to build a home in Richmond, having lived most of his life there, but after residing in
Vancouver for a number of years:
I’m sure affordability was part of it too. It’s much more expensive to live in Vancouver. We wanted to buy a place where we could start a family rather than buying an apartment in Vancouver because it’s a little harder to have children in an apartment.
Although a significant factor in determining the choice of residence for all groups of people, Caucasian, Chinese or Japanese, housing affordability was rarely cited as the lone motivation prompting this decision, but rather as one working in concert with other incentives. Some of these associated factors can be seen in the quotations on affordability presented above: the desire to own a first home and start a family and proximity to the city—but they also appear as important forces in their own right. Within both the Chinese and Japanese groups of residents, proximity to either the city or workplace (or a combination of the two, as with those who worked in Vancouver) were the most frequently cited attributes of Richmond, next to housing prices, that influenced their move.
For Japanese residents who had long family histories in and extensive ties to the community, the desire to be close to friends and family was also mentioned as a reason to move to Richmond.8 Similarly, proximity to work and the city were identified by nine of the twenty-nine Caucasian residents as another of Richmond’s features influencing their decision to move there, while twelve commented on the presence of either friends or family as other reasons leading them to live in the community.
More prominent motivations for the Caucasian residents surveyed, however, mentioned by fourteen participants, were ones bound up with Richmond’s ‘attractiveness,’ a catch-all phrase that encompassed a variety of features apart from affordability, proximity, and kinship ties. For many Caucasian residents, this appeal was intimately tied to Richmond’s rural or semi-rural character and the associated lifestyle benefits that this was seen to confer: quiet surroundings, a community atmosphere amenable to raising children, less congestion and traffic, and more living space. As the following resident in
her forties explained:
Well, when we came down from Prince George, my husband got a job in Vancouver with a forest company. I think we lived in an apartment building for a while, but we really liked the Richmond area. It wasn’t as populated as it is now, and being from a farming area as I was, I didn’t like living so close together, and in Richmond you didn’t. At that time [the early 1970s] it was spread out.
Although a significant factor influencing a number of residents to move to Richmond, the force of the community’s perceived rural character in drawing settlement appeared to be group-specific, mentioned by ten Caucasian residents who had moved to Richmond, but by none of the Chinese or Japanese participants. Furthermore, while four This desire to be close to either friends or family was mentioned by seven of eight Japanese movers, but by none of the Chinese participants who had made a decision to move to Richmond, a difference Caucasian participants cited the availability of amenities such as community centres, schools, and shopping facilities as factors inducing them to move to Richmond, only one resident of Japanese descent mentioned this, and none of the Chinese residents.
Life in Richmond While there were variations and inter-group differences among the long-term residents interviewed with respect to their motivations in moving to Richmond, participants’ recollections of their community prior to the mid-1980s were remarkably consistent.
Asked to reflect on the physical appearance of Richmond at this time, its ‘feel’ socially and culturally, and the changes that were taking place during those years, a recurrent theme expressed by all residents interviewed—young or old, mover or non-mover, Caucasian, Chinese or Japanese—was the evocation of Richmond’s rural landscape, as suggested by
the following survey of responses:
I remember Richmond as lots of farmland—there was a lot of farmland around and a lot more empty space, fields and things—and not as a place with high-rises. We never thought of Richmond as having a ‘downtown’— attributable, perhaps, to the fact that all of the Chinese residents interviewed who moved to Richmond were the first members of their respective families to live in the community.
It is unfortunate that the words here do not effectively convey the emotions that seem so palpable during the interview experience; that they cannot capture the sense of nostalgia and attachment that permeate so many of these descriptive accounts of Richmond’s landscape. This sense of valuation, however, is more readily apprehended in residents’ accounts of social life during this time, accounts which are in many respects linked to these depictions of Richmond’s semi-pastoral appearance. When asked to think back to this time period, many residents commented favourably on the sense of community that they enjoyed in the years prior to the mid-1980s, as in the case of this Japanese resident in his thirties who offered the following impression of his time growing up in
I think that a lot of the kids that grew up in our generation in Richmond, it was sort of a suburban story where there was not a lot of traffic. At this time it did not have the problems of a big city. Richmond was basically similar to what Mission [a more distant, semi-rural municipality] is now. It was basically a sort of carefree lifestyle.
His observation was paralleled by this Caucasian woman’s recollection of raising her
children in Richmond in the 1960s and 1970s:
Sure, the kids had a ball. I mean in those days the kids could hop on their bikes and they could go for a whole day and you never saw them back until suppertime. You never worried. If something happened, somebody would come and tell you.
Similar was this Chinese woman’s memories of her childhood in the 1970s:
I loved Richmond. I remember going out after school in the summertime and I would just ride my bike from about six—I played with my friends until dusk, about eight or nine [o’clock], just out there roaming on the playground, rid[ing] my bike. It was just the really carefree childhood days that we’d all want to go home to.
For others, such as the four following people (a Caucasian man in his fifties who emigrated from Germany in the 1950s, a Chinese resident in her twenties, a Caucasian woman in her thirties, and a Caucasian man in his fifties) this valued sense of community
was largely derived from relationships with their neighbours:
[commenting on his experiences arriving in Richmond in the 1950s]... Oh yeah, we were quite welcomed. We were... actually the neighbours, as soon as we arrived—it was the next day. We arrived on a Saturday and the next day on Sunday the neighbours on both sides came over with pies and whatnot, and the people across the street brought their kids over and introduced themselves to us. We didn’t know what they were saying, and they didn’t know what we were saying, but we were introduced and that started the neighbourhood.
We knew a lot of our neighbours. I went to church, the Richmond Chinese Alliance Church... actually, that started in Vancouver and then they had sort of a satellite branch in Richmond, so then we started going there. A lot of the people were living in Richmond, too, so there was that community. Everyone lived sort of close together and you could borrow sugar from your neighbour, that sort of thing. I think the neighbours that we had there, they were neighbours that had always been there. Our first house, we lived there for thirteen years. The people around us never seemed to change either.
Investigator: Were these neighbours Caucasian?
Yeah, there were maybe one or two Chinese, but not a lot—just a mix.
They [Caucasian neighbours] were real friendly, and my parents were friends with a number of them.
The first apartment building I moved into, the neighbours actually knocked on the door and introduced themselves. Of course, I grew up in Kitsilano [in Vancouver], which was very much a neighbourhood, and in the years where you could walk around at night and not worry and walk down to the beach and back again and not be worried about your safety, so the nice thing about Richmond was that it sort of had that feel to it. It felt kind of small town, and it wasn’t a city when I first moved here. It didn’t become a city until a few years later. It was not really rural, essentially, though there were areas of it that were, but it felt kind of small town and peaceful and not too hustly-bustly.
The original area we lived in, we had community activities where we had neighbourhood barbecues. We had special... we had a party where one of the couples would find an ethnic restaurant somewhere and would invite the other fifteen to twenty couples in the neighbourhood. We’d go to the restaurant for dinner and then back to the host’s for dessert and a drink. We’d do Christmas caroling and stuff like that. There was a whole series of intra-community activities that we did with the neighbours.
In the course of interviewing long-term residents of Asian ethnicity, conversation frequently touched upon themes of race and racism; generally after some prompting on my behalf, but occasionally the topic was broached by the participants themselves. Asked whether they could recollect having been discriminated against on account of their racial affiliation during the time period up to the mid-1980s, most respondents, like this Japanese man in his forties, could not recall any significant acts of discrimination against them, but
noted other axes of differentiation apart from physical appearance:9
For me, anyway, me and my family... hardly any. My dad... his best friend at the time was a guy named Jameson who used to own all of the Slumber Lodges out here, and when he [the participant’s father] was interned [during World War Two], he stayed with him, so that was pretty good. When we moved to Steveston [an area of Richmond] there was every race you could think of, and when I went to school at Lord Byng here... I didn’t speak the Japanese language, but you’d find the newer students who had come right from Japan... they had a class called new students, language-barrier students, so they had East Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, etcetera—they were picked-on in school because of the language barrier. That was the only reason. With me speaking English, I didn’t experience that. I had Caucasian friends, a lot of Japanese friends,
some Chinese friends, a couple of Italians, Germans. That was Steveston:
everybody got along.
For some people, perceptions of the relative lack of racial discrimination in the pre-1986 period in Richmond emerged through discussions of the present-day climate in which racial tensions were seen to be worse, as in the recollections of this Filipino resident in his Names of individuals and businesses have been changed in this passage to protect the anonymity of the participants.
twenties who commented on the sense of community he enjoyed in Richmond during
The population used to be, if you think about it, like Ladner [part of the outlying suburb of Delta, semi-rural in character, and primarily ‘white’].
I’m Filipino, and I’m a visible minority, but it was less... the Richmond of yesterday is not the Richmond of today. It was much friendlier. There was less... you couldn’t see the ethnicity of Richmond. We were Filipino, but it wasn’t a big deal. You didn’t have the problem of stereotypes of Hong Kong immigrants coming and buying up all the houses and having all the nice cars, speeding, etcetera...
In a couple of instances, the apparent contrast between the Richmond of yesteryear and the Richmond of today was placed into doubt as participants of Chinese and Japanese ethnicity reflected on their past experiences in light of their present circumstances, wondering, as this Chinese woman in her twenties did, whether there had been racial
discrimination in Richmond’s near past that had gone unnoticed by her:
You hear a lot of driving comments [now]: “Oh, female Asian driver.” That’s the worst stuff. I never noticed it before, but maybe it’s just because now I’m older and when I was younger I didn’t get it a lot.
Although some questioned the apparent absence of racial discrimination prior to the mids in Richmond, this Japanese resident in her forties was one of the few to relate stories of exclusion on account of her racial and ethnic background. Recalling her childhood growing up in Steveston shortly after the Second World War when her parents
returned from internment in Manitoba, she related the following episode: