«9DQFRXYHU&HQWUHRI([FHOOHQFH 5HVHDUFKRQ,PPLJUDWLRQDQG,QWHJUDWLRQLQWKH0HWURSROLV :RUNLQJ 3DSHU 6HULHV #99-15 Immigration, Neighbourhood ...»
Some areas I don’t like it [increasing cultural diversity] because I’m at the point of frustration where people come here and bring their old traditions with them—and I have nothing against that, but they try to push their traditions on everybody else and a lot of people are coming here with a lot of money and they seem to be flaunting it in your face. I think this is what bothers me more than anything, going to the different stores now... I myself will not set foot in Parker Place because of the attitude. I’m sorry, but I’ve been in there a few times when I’ve been treated like sheer garbage.
– Caucasian man, aged fifties
Although ‘Asian’ malls were one site of interactions between Caucasian host-society members and recent immigrants from Asia that led to negative impressions of Richmond’s growing cultural diversity among Caucasian participants, a series of residents—especially, though not exclusively, women—identified the settlement of Asian immigrants as an erosive force on neighbourhood relations. Commenting on the mores of suburban neighbourliness, changes in their perception of their community, and the role of Asian immigration in bringing about unwelcome transformations to the social order, this longterm resident couple expressed feelings held by many (some fifteen of thirty-four)
I think the biggest impact in the last—perhaps not ten years, but less than that—has been the Chinese population. That has had a tremendous impact on Richmond.
It’s very hard to reach out to them as a neighbour.
That’s the biggest single difference that I think has made Richmond a totally different community to what we have been used to. The Chinese influx has been so strong and so big that we haven’t really, as people who have lived here for a long time, we haven’t really adjusted to it yet. We’re still adjusting to it by going shopping, the kids going to school, the recreation places, church, whatever. It has had a tremendous impact.
Investigator: What makes it so difficult to get in touch with, or get in contact with... I don’t know whether you have any recent immigrant neighbours, for example...
I can give you two examples, John. In the first house on our right is a young family, and I think they have a senior in there as well, or a parent.
They moved in and I saw them on the street, so I went over and I spoke to them. I said, “Hi, you’re new to the neighbourhood,” and whatever, and they were very friendly and so on, but very reserved and possibly just tolerated my dialogue. They’ll come out into the driveway and never, ever say “Hello.” You know, I try to reach out to them. A young woman was walking with a small child, just the week before last, and I was talking to her and I said, “How is your child,” and whatever, yet she’ll come out, duck the driveway and see me on the road, not acknowledge me and I don’t know whether it’s... culturally in their country... And then, across the street, I don’t know if I could tell you how many times I’ve waved and said “Hi.” Sometimes they’ll acknowledge you, but they will never—they’ll see me out there and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve said “Hello,” “That’s a nice dog,” or something: they never, ever reach out.
While critical comments on the impact and behaviour of Asian immigrants were widespread among the Caucasian long-term residents interviewed, they were not confined to this ethno-cultural group. Although reluctant to explicitly cite Asian immigration and related changes as negative developments of the last twelve years, every Japanese and Chinese participant in the research project offered at least one critical, immigration-related comment after further questioning by me. Among Japanese-origin respondents, the tenor and theme of objections related to Chinese immigrants in Richmond were similar to those of the Caucasian long-term residents interviewed, emphasizing issues such as ESL
pressures, and immigrant-behaviours considered undesirable:
Part of the problem... the problem, if there is one, is in the public school system. English speakers may end up being in the minority and this is already evident in my son’s classroom in grade one. It’s not as noticeable in other classrooms he could have been in. Within our immediate neighbourhood, for example, we know—we visited the school—that it would have been over 90% ESL and that’s a concern because we want our son to be able to enjoy the company of everybody in the class, and not just restricted to those who will be comfortable speaking to him with or without the facility of English... so that’s one reason.
– Japanese man, aged forties... It gets pretty frustrating after a while. My best friend is Chinese, but he was born in Canada and he even says they’re [recent Chinese immigrants] terrible. I think some of them [Chinese immigrants] have poor attitudes.
They pretty much think they own the city or something. It gets pretty frustrating for myself, walking through the mall and you hear them yelling and they don’t speak English—they’re all speaking Chinese.
– Japanese man, aged twenties Critical comments about new Chinese migrants to Richmond, if not quite so readily offered, were also registered by long-term Chinese residents who, by their own selfpositioning, occupied a ‘middle position’ between recent immigrants and long-term Caucasian residents. Frequently, established Chinese residents (not to mention Japanese residents) spoke of a rise in racial intolerance as a negative immigration-related development over the past twelve years, citing instances where they had been subject to abuse by Caucasian Richmond residents who believed, on the basis of their appearance, that they were recent immigrants. Significantly, however, in articulating their ‘middle’ position, some seven out of nine Chinese participants argued that discrimination could operate in both directions in Richmond; that recent Chinese immigrants could engage in exclusionary acts against long-term Chinese and Caucasian residents. Commenting on Richmond’s ‘Asian’ malls, the following long-term Chinese resident in her twenties related an illuminating experience that altered her perception of long-term Caucasian residents’
anxieties about ethno-cultural change:
A friend of mine said [that he had been treated poorly in an ‘Asian’ mall] in Grade Twelve, and I couldn’t understand him until we went to the mall together and they gave us such dirty looks... like me, “what are you doing with that white guy?” sort of look. My brother who is married to a Caucasian woman, they get it all the time. I think it’s true, how they [Caucasian residents] feel is true, because they [recent Chinese immigrants] don’t make... they feel like... I’m not saying everyone, but I think this is how they think: “we have enough people to support our business, so if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s too bad. We’re not going to cater to you.” That’s how they think, whereas the North American culture is more like trying to help people and welcome people.
Other long-term ethnic Chinese residents, such as these two women in their twenties, offered similarly critical assessments of recent migrants (and note their resonance with those complaints made by long-term Caucasian and Japanese residents), highlighting
perceived differences in behaviour between immigrants and long-term residents:
... it’s cultural and its the perception of what money is for. I think that with older residents a lot of people have worked hard for their homes, their cars and their lives, and I don’t see—this is Asian children—I don’t see Asian children valuing things as much as the children of long-term residents. You go to any parking lot in a high-school in central Richmond and you can look in the parking lot and you can tell this is staff parking and this is student parking, and it’s not the staff parking that has the nice cars.
This may be very judgmental, but I’ve seen in my church alone a very high immigrant population, and the opulence of these new kids is just amazing.
It’s the mentality of what money is for and how it is spent. That would be one thing in my mind for the younger generation. For the parents, I can’t say.
I’ll take the way newer immigrants act differently than long-term residents. Part of it is just the setting they’ve been brought up in; there is less regard for neighbours or the sense of other people. I think you’re just aware of yourself, and that’s it, because you grew up in a city like Hong Kong where there’s however million people packed into a place like that.
That [being focused on yourself] is privacy—you don’t care what others think. It’s such a huge city, whereas here you get to know people and you’re just more aware of people. I just think that they don’t know that there should be... manners might not be the best word... just socially appropriate behaviours. I’ll give you an example: We have a (Chinese) neighbour across the street. You’ll be backing up your car, and the courtesy is that you’ve started backing up, so you get to go first. She will continue backing up and go her own way and you’ll honk at her and she’ll like... apparently this happened to my neighbour; she gave the finger to her own neighbour. She’s been living here for a long time, but she never—they’ve never—made the attempt to socialize or say “Hi” or be friendly the way you think neighbours should.
Although there were a few bold souls who made such comments outright, these kinds of criticisms were made cautiously by most long-term Chinese participants, and not without a certain degree of reflexivity and fear of unfair categorization. While discussing the differences she saw between long-term ethnic-Chinese residents and recent Chinese immigrants, one woman in her twenties made a point of offering such comments with a
series of caveats and qualifications:
People my parents’ age... yeah, I do see differences. I’m thinking about my friend’s parents, who I grew up with, and my own parents, and I think they’re more blue-collar workers... or not even that—I don’t want to classify people—whereas I see the people I know who have moved here as more of a business-side of things. [On generalizing]... that’s been something that I’ve been really careful of, or try to be, in the sense that I know some of the comments I’ve made are racist, like I would consider them racist myself, towards my own, but because I’m Chinese I’ve been excused of it. I don’t think it matters. It’s one thing to be critical, and then it’s another thing to be just rude. I think that I’ve crossed that line before.
These anxieties over critical comments and categorization expressed by long-term Chinese residents are perhaps understandable given the tug of subject positions as expressed in the quote above—the dilemma of being critical of ‘one’s own.’ Judging from participant responses, this conflict of identity—while present in the past experiences of Chinese residents—heightened with the growth in Richmond’s Asian-origin population in the postperiod. Commenting on their prior senses of self, recurrent themes expressed by long-term Chinese residents were efforts to fit in with ‘white’ society, efforts which had a
remarkable impact on residents’ perceptions of racial and ethnic difference:
Despite this past positioning of themselves as different from newcomers, and their current criticisms of ethno-cultural differences between old and new Chinese Richmond residents, seven Chinese participants expressed an affinity between themselves and recent migrants, a bond arising out of a rekindled sense of Chinese identity wrought by Asian immigration.
As the Chinese-Canadian resident in his fifties who had thought he was ‘white’ noted with
respect to recent immigration-related ethno-cultural changes:
With Richmond becoming very Chinese-y it’s actually made it very easy for me, because I feel comfortable moving around in Richmond, rather than if it didn’t happen. Now I’m actually becoming more Chinese-y: I practice it [speaking Chinese], I use it, I’m at the [‘Asian’] malls a lot, the stores a lot, so I’ve actually gained a language and a culture out of this, and I’m quite proud of the fact that I’m Chinese, but I’m equally proud of the fact that I’m Canadian.
On this sense of ethnic affiliation between long-term and recent immigrant Chinese
Richmond residents, this Chinese woman in her twenties explained:
... there’s this Chinese-pride thing in which Chinese are very proud of being Chinese. I’m not ashamed of being Chinese. I’m not ashamed of my Chinese culture. It’s a very important part of who I am, but I can’t... you have to be Chinese to understand it. I can’t explain it... it’s just who we are.
In addition to its perceived positive impact on long-term Chinese residents’ sense of their identity (and it was in response to a question on positive changes since 1986 in Richmond that the above answers were tendered), recent Chinese immigration to Richmond was also cited by Chinese participants as one which opened up possibilities for material advancement for them on behalf of their ethnic identity. For the following Chinese resident in her twenties, this growing sense of Chinese identity—while important to her
sense of self—could be played up instrumentally to gain an advantage in the job market: