«9DQFRXYHU&HQWUHRI([FHOOHQFH 5HVHDUFKRQ,PPLJUDWLRQDQG,QWHJUDWLRQLQWKH0HWURSROLV :RUNLQJ 3DSHU 6HULHV #99-15 Immigration, Neighbourhood ...»
I think that in any wave of immigration you always have—it doesn’t matter what group: from Europe, from Japan, from any area... the first wave is the parents and there might be some small kids, and because they’re new to the country, new to language, new to culture, they tend to stick with their own group and they don’t assimilate very well because the parents aren’t comfortable with the language or the culture. The kids, on the other hand, are in schools and they are basically immersed in the culture, so I find that it’s basically one generation. It was the same way when I think about my grandparents. My grandparents came from Japan in the early part of the century. My grandparents didn’t learn English, and most people my age, their grandparents didn’t learn English. To this day, the ones that are still alive, they still don’t know much English because Steveston, at that time, had Japanese stores, Japanese doctors, Japanese hospitals—you could get everything in Japanese. The same thing is happening now, but on a much larger scale. You have a bank where you can get service in Chinese, Chinese restaurants, Chinese stores, Chinese supermarkets...
Perhaps because of this optimism about the course of Richmond’s cultural relations, based on past experiences with immigration, residents were relatively sanguine about Richmond as a community to live in, both in the present and the future. When asked about their future residency plans, eighteen of thirty-four Caucasian residents, six of nine Japanese residents, and three of the nine Chinese residents interviewed, stated that they intended to remain in Richmond. Four Caucasian participants, however, expressed plans to move out of the city (an additional two were in the process of moving from the municipality), while similar plans were intimated by two of the nine Japanese participants and three of nine Chinese participants. For many residents, however, this question as to their future residency plans was too difficult to warrant a straightforward answer. Ten Caucasian residents, one Japanese resident, two Chinese residents, and both of the other ethnic-Asian residents responded that they were unsure as to their future plans. As with residents who had decided whether they intended to stay in or move from Richmond, those who had not made definitive plans cited a number of factors that would influence such a decision.
While the presence of Chinese immigrants might enter into these considerations, most residents did not explicitly mention this as a factor; much more prominent were circumstances related to personal life plans, and dissatisfaction with Richmond’s increasing urbanity. Many of those planning to move, and those who were undecided, commented on Richmond’s busy-ness, and expressed a desire to move to a place where they could enjoy a quieter way of life, as in the case of the following Caucasian resident in
I don’t think I’m going to stay in Richmond. At the age that I am now I will be done university in a year. I think, looking ahead, because I like the freedom, I like the open space, that I would like to live in a place that is a little bit smaller with maybe a little bit more room, a little more land to live on. As far as the future, and me having a family, I think that I would like to bring up my children in a place that wasn’t so hectic, so fast-paced. I just feel boxed-in sometimes in Richmond. I don’t know if it is just the city life, or just the way Richmond is, but I have dreams and hopes of moving out of Richmond. Whether it’s five years or ten years down the road, and where I will go, I don’t know, but if I do get the opportunity to move out I think it will be right out of the Lower Mainland to somewhere smaller.
Definitely somewhere smaller that has more open space and more of a rural setting rather than a busy city like Richmond.
A further consideration in moving plans apart from the aesthetics of Richmond’s transition from semi-rural suburb to edge city, and one that was important for young respondents of various ethno-cultural backgrounds who stated that they could not afford to buy a home in Richmond, was the rise in housing prices that had attended population growth in Richmond. Yet, as important as this factor was in influencing the decisions of younger participants, concerns about living expenses also were expressed by older residents who,
like this Caucasian participant in his fifties, were troubled by rising tax burdens:
Well, it probably isn’t going to be in the near future, but down the road we’ll [the respondent and his wife] will probably move out of Richmond.
Basically, in my opinion, right now it’s just too expensive to retire in Richmond, so I would look at a place that was less expensive, where the cost of living... where the cost of housing—particularly taxes—and so on, was less expensive.
While dissatisfaction with Richmond’s increasing population size and density illustrated that physical changes were significant enough to motivate established residents to consider moving, the role played by rising living costs, as noted above, in determining future living plans was more complex. The impression given by many participants who cited such factors was that they were satisfied with life in the community in most respects, and regretted that they would no longer find it economically viable to live there. This cost/benefit dilemma, resolved in favour of moving by some participants, in favour of staying by others, becomes clear in the accounts of those struggling with the decision to move, as in the case of the following Caucasian resident in her fifties. Note, in this passage, the variety of factors to be considered, the careful inventory of potential future places of residence, and the commentary on immigration as a factor at the end of the
I think it’s too difficult to predict, particularly with personal circumstances, but I like to think we can stay here, hopefully in this house, for as long as possible. I like Richmond. I have thought about the possibility of if I had to move, where would I want to move? I certainly wouldn’t want to move to Surrey or Langley—there’s just no way. Possibly, if I could afford it, maybe back into Vancouver. Kerrisdale is a very nice area. The West End?
—probably not. We’ve lived there before, but I think that’s for a younger community now. South Granville is very nice, but again, the houses are probably terrifically expensive. But I wouldn’t [want to move]... I love my garden, there’s still some open space in Richmond, we still have Garry Point Park, which is a little gem. We still have some ocean that we can get to easily, and I’d be really lost without the ocean. So yes, I hope to stay here a long time. So I don’t know... whether they [recent Chinese immigrants] stay or go or come or do whatever, that’s fine. I just hope that they will mix in and we can all live in reasonable harmony.
Conclusion: Rethinking Interpretations of Social Relations in Richmond (and Elsewhere)
1. General Impressions of Resident Experiences The difficulty long-term residents experienced in providing firm answers to questions about their future residency plans is, I think, not unusual; indeed, it speaks to the frustration that attends efforts to impose a rigid guideline on the contingent character of everyday life. Furthermore, it is difficult to discern the role of immigration in residents’ expressed plans to move from the community—while the resident quoted at the close of the last section alluded to how immigration did (or did not) enter into her deliberations, most other residents did not cite immigration as a motivation in their responses, commenting on other factors such as development, living costs, and lifestyle preferences.
How are these to be considered: as factors in their own right, or as metaphors for ‘unacceptable’ concerns about ethno-cultural change? Similar problems of interpretation and categorization complicate the task of providing closure in a concluding section that seeks to encapsulate how Richmond residents have conceived of change in their community over the past twelve years and before, and any such summary must be prefaced by a series of qualifications.
First and foremost, considerable caution must be exercised in extrapolating from the results of a research project involving fifty-four participants to comment on the responses of Richmond residents as a whole. While extended interviews were the primary method of inquiry, producing a depth of interpretive information unattainable by most other research methods, the demands of locating participants, conducting interviews, and coding and transcribing them imposed significant constraints on the number of people that could be surveyed in this project, thus limiting the scope of conclusions that can be drawn from the research. Additionally, and following from this observation on the sample size of residents interviewed, it must be acknowledged that despite the efforts made to diversify the long-term resident category in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, most (if not all) participants were generally of middle-class economic status; it is conceivable that residents of other class positions may have different views than the participants of this study.
Moreover, for the purposes of comparing their responses over time, only residents who had lived in the community before the major movement of Chinese immigrants were interviewed, and those with shorter lengths of residence in Richmond might respond differently to contemporary changes.
The interview questions in this research project, furthermore, surveyed peoples’ expressed representations and opinions on neighbourhood change and immigration, and the interview process—no matter how open and honest the participants are—cannot fail but shape the character of the responses. We must, as always, consider such accounts cautiously—not as unproblematic, transparent accounts of ‘reality,’ but as the introspective products of actors with the capacity for creative thought. On a final note, it is also important to note that the resulting data are not a measure of resident actions; they do not conclusively indicate whether residents’ day-to-day experiences and attitudes
correspond with the representations and opinions expressed.
Given the complexity of resident interview responses, generalization within the results presents its own difficulties of interpretation. However, while the diversity of participants’ responses renders impossible an unimpeachable, all-encompassing assessment of residents’ reception of neighbourhood change in Richmond, it is possible to note themes and trends within the array of anecdotes. Following the accounts offered by the residents interviewed, and set against a literature which has often imputed a racialized motive behind the choice to live in the suburbs, residents chose to live in the community for a variety of reasons that had nothing explicitly to do with race. For long-term residents of Chinese-origin, affordability of housing and proximity to work were the primary considerations. Among ethnic-Japanese residents, in addition to the factors cited by Chinese residents, the desire to be close to family was another motivation. For Caucasian residents, all these factors entered into their decisions to move to Richmond.
Significantly, however, Caucasian participants also indicated that the ‘rural’ character of Richmond, and its perceived associated benefits, played a part in spurring their move.
Richmond’s rurality prior to the mid-1980s was commented upon by almost every resident, whether young or old, male or female, a mover or non-mover, Caucasian, Chinese and Japanese, and was valued by many participants—not just Caucasian residents.
Given this attribution of value to Richmond’s rural (or semi-rural) setting, it is not surprising that growth and development in the community during the 1970s and before, not to mention the late-1980s and early 1990s, were not universally well-received by the participants interviewed. While improvements in amenities such as roads, street lighting and shopping facilities were regarded as welcome changes during this time, some concern was expressed—particularly by Caucasian residents—about the effects that development and population growth were having on the preservation of farmland, green space, and their quality of life.
However, if my interpretation of resident responses is indicative of how they were feeling at the time, development and growth were not particularly significant concerns for most of the participants in this study prior to1986, and for the most part, residents appeared content with the way their community looked and felt during this era. Judging from the frequency and character of responses, though, in the post-1986 period growth and development issues began to assume greater prominence as concerns in the minds of the long-term residents who participated in this research. Almost every single Caucasian resident mentioned development of some pace and type as being a negative change since 1986, and while these kinds of concerns were relatively muted among residents with Chinese and Japanese ethnic backgrounds, they were still present, particularly in criticisms of Richmond’s increasing automobile traffic.