«9DQFRXYHU&HQWUHRI([FHOOHQFH 5HVHDUFKRQ,PPLJUDWLRQDQG,QWHJUDWLRQLQWKH0HWURSROLV :RUNLQJ 3DSHU 6HULHV #99-15 Immigration, Neighbourhood ...»
I think that with more Asian people [coming to Richmond] that Asian culture has become more close to me, in that I see it more often and I see more people having those same traditions, not just me anymore. So that’s positive. In general, maybe the opportunities have opened up for me because I’m—Asians help Asians; not that they don’t help other people, but I think in a business sense they help Asian people more. I think I’ve gotten more opportunities because of that. It’s very self-centered, I suppose. In trying to be valuable in the job market, especially in Richmond, now I play up my Asian background more, just because it seems what people want now. I get, “Do you speak another language?” I’m like, “Yes, I do,” and they’ll go, “Oh!” It’s a lot different now. In a way I’m almost using my Asian background to my benefit.
Although Chinese ethnicity could be played up for instrumental advantage, the corollary to this advantageous affiliation—whether consciously emphasized for material gain or thought of as an essential part of identity—was the sense expressed by many Chinese participants of an obligation to stand in defence of recent Chinese immigrants, to close ranks in the face of criticism, sentiments expressed by a woman in her twenties with both
Japanese and Chinese ethnic origins:
For me I think it is a bit of a racial thing, feeling more connected to Asian immigrants, maybe wanting to defend them in a way. I think I have that in me sometimes.
... and this Chinese participant in her twenties who struggled to express the tortured feelings she felt when she heard critical comments of recent Chinese immigrants made by
Caucasian Richmond residents:
When I talk about some of these issues with my Caucasian friends, given their personality and stuff, I am aware of what to say and what not to say, so obviously it depends on the person. If I am talking to somebody, like talking to a long-time resident such as my ex-boyfriend’s father... he’d be talking about these ‘monster’ houses and things, [and] I’d just sort of nod my head and listen quietly, because he was quite adamant. He was your typical Richmond resident who was opposed, totally opposed, to them. To me, being from my background, I almost felt like saying... see, that’s the thing: sometimes I feel like there’s an obligation, like I almost have to defend the Asian immigrants because I’m Chinese myself. I am a ChineseCanadian, but just because they are saying something about these immigrants doesn’t mean that they’re saying something about me. It’s not a reflection upon me, but I almost take it like that, like I should say something in defence.
Among the Japanese residents interviewed, many expressed similar feelings as their Chinese counterparts, particularly of fears that their ‘insider’ status as long-term residents was provisional and always subject to question on account of their phenotypical appearance. Yet, while Japanese participants wondered, with regard to Caucasian complaints about Chinese immigration, whether (to quote one woman in her forties) “they’re thinking that about me, too,” dilemmas over identity did not extend any farther than this. Judging from the interview material, the movement of Chinese immigrants into Richmond during the post-1986 period had not inspired any sense of pan-Asian identity or affiliation among Japanese long-term residents as it had for Chinese long-term residents, nor did any Japanese participants—none of whom spoke Chinese—offer any indication that this influx of immigrants had resulted in any particular business opportunities on account of their ‘Asian’ ethno-cultural background.
Yet if the contradictory tugs of subject positions were not so marked among Japanese long-term residents as they were for Chinese participants, and did not impact on their sense of identity in the same way or to the same extent, this is not to say that Japanese (not to mention Caucasian) residents’ impressions of ethno-cultural change and immigration were unidimensional and solely negative in content. Like long-term residents of Chinese ethnicity, participants in both the Japanese and Caucasian resident cohorts (some six and twelve residents, respectively) also commented on Chinese immigration to Richmond as having a host of positive benefits, among these, the opportunity to see a ‘new setting’ in Richmond in terms of markets, restaurants and stores, and to learn about other cultures and languages (“If I had the desire to learn Cantonese or another second language, I think it would be a lot easier if you were immersed in it, when your neighbours next door speak Cantonese and the people across the street speak Cantonese.”). Similarly, a number of Caucasian residents spoke highly of the qualities of their new Chinese immigrant neighbours (“We always said they were good neighbours because they kept up their property. There are no run-down houses in Asian neighbourhoods in the sense that you get old cars parked in the front street and furniture out in the car-port.”), and in the following instance, of the impact the presence of immigrants from around the world was having on the social awareness of long-term resident children. As this Caucasian participant in his fifties of Ukrainian ethnic
background explained in comparing the current context with his past experiences:
One of the big things I noticed that I thought was very good was in the schools, in this sense: with our kids they did not define the difference, so it didn’t matter whether it was a Chinese [child], an East Indian boy, a Dutch boy, a Ukrainian boy, or a German boy—they were all just boys, or girls, or whatever the case may be. Earlier, in my time, there was quite a strong distinction, like if you were a Ukrainian you weren’t as good as an Englishman, and looked down upon. But that was what I noticed with our boys. I can’t say that for all boys, but I do know that it was not uncommon to come home and I would see a boy from India in the house with our guys, a black boy from Africa, a boy from Chile, so it was a real mix. I think that part of it was great.
The Contingent Character of Host Attitudes
As the quotes on the preceding pages suggest, participants of various ethno-cultural origins were willing, in the course of the interviews, to comment explicitly on the impact of Chinese immigration to Richmond and the significance of immigrants’ ethnic backgrounds. Although there were inter-group variations in the kinds of ethnic characteristics deemed important, and differences in the impacts identified, it is important to note that ethno-cultural transformation was identified as a factor leading to both positive and negative effects on community life, by all groups, though with different points of emphasis among them. While acknowledging that varied dimensions of resident response to ethno-cultural change introduce new complexities into accounts of immigrant reception focusing on issues of racism, significant questions remain, however, as to how this ethnic difference—whether seen as a positive or negative contribution to Richmond— is articulated. Commenting on non-white immigrant reception in Britain during the lates and early 1970s, for example, Martin Barker (1981) has contended that discourses of culture, when linked to phenotypical features, can take on a quasi-biological, and ‘racist’ overtone—rendering the fluid category of culture unchangeable and innate.
Similarly, Kay Anderson’s (1991) analysis of Vancouver’s Chinatown draws links between the seemingly benign discourses of Canadian multiculturalism with the categorizations which legitimated the circumscription of Chinese identity, arguing that positive multicultural discourses of exotic otherness still serve to sustain the notion of rigid, discrete ethnic or ‘racial’ distinctions.
When asked to speculate as to the source of the differences between long-term residents and recent Chinese immigrants—if distinctions were noted at all—residents overwhelmingly cited ‘culture’ as the root cause. Indeed, every resident identified differences between themselves and recent immigrants as the product of being socialized in different political, social, and geographic milieus. Perhaps these invocations of cultural traits can be considered, pace Barker, as smuggling in pseudo-biological notions, but other resident comments on the character of these cultural differences, I believe, give pause to this notion. Like Chinese residents who anxiously questioned their own generalizations and typifications, Japanese and Caucasian participants, while not always demonstrating as strong a reflexive sensibility, frequently acknowledged the partiality of their categorizations. One way in which residents destabilized their own use of ethno-cultural categorizations was to acknowledge their subjective quality—that value judgments about recent Chinese immigrants, their supposed behavioural characteristics, and the changes they were making in Richmond, were not natural, ‘objective’ facts, but the product of residents’ own beliefs and opinions. Furthermore, and as part of this self-questioning process that residents engaged in when invoking cultural difference to explain variations between long-term residents and recent immigrants, participants in the project stressed that that the categories they employed were not monolithic, nor were distinctions between ethno-cultural groups clear-cut. These acknowledgments of partiality on behalf of established residents, suggesting the potential for a change in their views, can be seen in many of the responses that have appeared thus far, as they also do in the following
... I’ve talked to a lot of Chinese in Richmond and other areas about integration, just in the hour I spend with them [during the participant’s work time], and I get the feeling they’d love to integrate, but they don’t know how, or it’s too... their cultural beliefs are such that they’re not as outgoing or extroverted as, say, a non-Asian is... you have to be fair here, though [speaking of relations with his Chinese immigrant neighbours]—we didn’t make a large effort to know them and I’m sure the reasons were much the same on both sides: the language barrier. You can only smile and nod so many times.
– Caucasian man, aged fifties
We have immigrants who are coming to this country because they truly want to live here. Then we have the immigrants who are leaving [their country of origin] because they think maybe their country might have a volatile situation and “We come here and we’ll watch. Oh, it’s not looking so bad now, so we’re going back. Thank you so much for the free ride, and now we’re going back.” You see, I deal with a different group because the school I work at is out in eastern Richmond. Our school has seventy-three students in it, and out of the seventy-three we have seven Asians—that’s it. Three of them are in ESL—they’re a brother/sister trio.
We had one ESL student last year, so we get a very low-key ESL population. They don’t flaunt their wealth: they just bring their lunch to school in a bag just like everybody else does, and I think we just deal with a financially poorer student or [one] more conscious of not showing their wealth.
I wonder if the group my husband deals with on a regular basis [and of which he expressed considerable criticism with regard to behaviour] are the wealthy ones and what their money would buy in Hong Kong buys so much more out here, and so they’re still expressing their wealth or they’re finding that their money buys a heck of a lot more here, so they’re not sure how to act. Or maybe they’re the group that’s here while they were waiting to see what Hong Kong and China were going to do, and maybe now they’re going to go back, and the families have decided that it is not going to be so bad over there, so they can go back now—they were hedging their bets. Maybe they decided their children were going to get a better education [in Canada] and then bring them back over to Hong Kong where they might get that much more of a better job because they’ve been taught English and their people skills have gotten a little bit better than what they would be over there. I’m not sure, but my husband works with a different group [of Chinese immigrants].
– Caucasian woman, aged forties
An additional series of comments providing insight as to the way in which cultural differences were invoked by long-term residents emerged with questions regarding the future of cultural relations in Richmond as the participants saw it. Questioned as to whether they believed that the gulf—if it existed—between long-term residents and recent Chinese immigrants would become less marked in the future, seven out of nine Chinese participants, eight out of nine Japanese participants, and twenty-eight out of thirty-four Caucasian participants expressed the belief that they would, through a process of assimilation in which immigrants would adopt the customs of the ‘host’ society, or through a process of integration in which adjustments would be made by both recent immigrants and long-term residents. Although such comments on future relations were usually accompanied by particular qualifications—that the future of cultural relations depended on factors such as the political situation in Hong Kong and China, the willingness of recent immigrants to commit to long-term residency in Richmond and adapt culturally and linguistically, the pace and scale of future Chinese immigration into Richmond, the actions of various governments, and the willingness of long-term residents to make accommodating gestures—the tenor of most resident speculations was optimistic.
Referring to the present situation in light of his own family experience, the following Japanese resident in his thirties expressed a confidence held by many about immigrant
adaptation and Richmond’s long-term future: