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Alongside, and occasionally intersecting with these criticisms of development— particularly in the case of ‘monster home’ construction—were concerns expressed about Richmond’s changing ethno-cultural climate and the impacts this was perceived to have on the community. Mentioned as a change by every Asian long-term resident, and by the majority of Caucasian participants, the increase in Richmond’s Chinese population over the past twelve years as a result of immigration elicited a variety of responses. The most explicitly critical comments were made by Caucasian residents, with fourteen of thirty-four participants stating outright that changes associated with this movement (such as the rise in English as a Second Language student population in schools, Chinese language signs, and the perceived loss of a sense of community) were negative developments of the last twelve years. Many more within this group, when prompted by me to express their feelings on these subjects, expressed similar reservations. Among the Japanese-origin participants, ethno-cultural changes were not specifically mentioned as negative developments since 1986, though, as in the case of Caucasian residents, concerns about changes related to the movement of Chinese immigrants into Richmond emerged with further questioning. This was also the case with the sample of ethnic Chinese residents, who were often reticent to volunteer criticisms of recent immigration patterns and associated impacts.
In addition to their critical responses to various changes in their community, it is important to recognize that the long-term residents interviewed also had highly favourable comments to offer about Richmond’s transforming landscape. When asked to indicate those changes since 1986 which they viewed as positive, for example, every Japanese resident interviewed, eight out of nine Chinese residents, and thirty-two of thirty-four Caucasian residents indicated development of some kind, primarily improvements in the quantity, quality and variety of amenities, as welcome changes of the past twelve years.
Similarly, a significant number of residents explicitly cited the influx of Chinese immigrants into Richmond since 1986, and the perceived associated impacts, as positive developments during this time. This approval of ethno-cultural change was, understandably perhaps, most prevalent among ethnic-Chinese members of the host society. For many of these participants, the growing presence of Chinese immigrants had served to rekindle their own, often consciously submerged, feelings of Chinese identity. For others, particularly those who spoke a Chinese language and were well positioned to capitalize on the opportunities presented by this influx, the growing Chinese presence in Richmond as a result of immigration was welcomed as a potential source of material advancement.
Among Japanese and Caucasian participants, positive changes associated with Chinese immigration were an increase in Richmond’s cultural diversity—and more specifically, the increased variety of restaurants, greater opportunity for personal development through the learning of different languages and cultural practices, and the contribution that immigration was making to their children’s social awareness.
2. Resident Ambivalence and the Location of Racism
As the varied nature of resident responses to material and ethno-cultural changes in their community suggests, arriving at a definitive term to describe their character is an exercise fraught with difficulty. Considering resident responses to development and ethno-cultural transformations on the whole, the impression given by the interview material in this research project is not that of a rigid alignment in favour of or in opposition to these changes, but rather an ambivalent stance whereby members of the host society considered particular transformations to have both positive and negative dimensions. As an analytical term and on its own, ‘ambivalence’ is perhaps not very instructive, and in the course of the previous section, I have tried to tease out the specific components of residents’ reactions to change. Yet, in the context of interpretations of immigrant reception that have focused on criticisms of immigrants by established white residents, I believe that there is something productive to be gained by including the complexity of resident responses into research on immigrant reception. Commenting on the utility of introducing the concept of ambivalence into a postmodern conception of racism, Ali Rattansi (1994) contends that contextually sensitive research on identity has illustrated its fragmented character; that identity is marked by a multiplicity of subject positions in which racist and anti-racist attitudes co-exist. De-essentializing the ‘racist’ subject, Rattansi argues, and accounting for the variety of subject positions adopted by people, introduces crucial nuances into accounts that represent contemporary acts of racialization and racism as a seamless process, “as all-encompassing and monolithic, smoothly reproducing racialized stereotypes and practices of discrimination” (p. 60).
Considering the literature that examines immigration in the Greater Vancouver context, then, if we view current criticisms of ethno-cultural changes by established Caucasian residents to be “reinventions of old racist concepts” (Ray et al. 1997, 75), acknowledging the complexity of participants’ responses requires us to see these kinds of comments as not describing the totality of their experiences, but as one position among the many adopted by residents. The fragmented character of the category ‘long-term resident’ and the ambivalence of individual responses challenges the temptation to reduce the problem of racism to that of ‘whiteness’—for ethno-cultural criticisms were expressed not only by Caucasian residents, but also by those of Asian ethnicity—and to limiting accounts of reception in general to racism.10 Furthermore, though cleavages within the various participant ethno-cultural groups could only be alluded to here, fuller examination of the diversity of responses within these categories works against the common representation of them as monolithic entities. Breaking down and closely examining the responses of people defined as ‘Chinese,’ ‘Japanese’ and ‘Caucasian’ suggests that other A way to reconcile this semantically, to maintain the category of whiteness while accounting for longterm Asian-origin residents’ criticisms of recent Chinese immigrants could be to include these residents within this category—ie. to see them as ‘honourary’ or ‘conditional’ whites. Given that these residents expressed feelings of ethnic-affiliation with non-whites, however, to fold them into this category of ‘whiteness’ would appear to be an unwarranted imposition of identity. If we recognize, however, that non-whites are capable of ethno-cultural critique, discrimination, or ‘racism,’ it seems to me that the elision of ‘racism’ with the condition of ‘whiteness’ needs to be rethought, or abandoned altogether for a less essentialist conception.
factors—such as age, gender, length of tenure and aesthetic tastes and lifestyle preferences—also impact on the reception of material and ethno-cultural changes in Richmond, and operate across ethnic lines. Moreover, residents’ accounts of feeling like outsiders at ‘Asian’ theme malls in Richmond also indicate that understandings of ‘racism’ need to be broadened out from what has hitherto been a focus on actions of the ‘host’ community; that ‘racism’ should be conceived not as a simple, uni-directional process from the ‘host’ community to immigrants, but one in which immigrants too—especially given their growing numbers and economic power—can actively participate.
3. Development Concerns in the Post-1986 Period: Metaphors for ‘Racist’ Sentiments?
As implied above, there is an important ethical issue of representation to this acknowledgment of the various ways—both positive and negative—that long-term Caucasian, Chinese, and Japanese Richmond residents have responded to the reorganization of their community over the past twelve years. While analyses of ‘racism’ and immigration that focus exclusively on the negative reception of community changes by white residents do not necessarily imply that this is the only way in which they (and they alone) view these transformations, I am concerned that this outcome is their effect. In focusing so narrowly on ‘racism’ in resident responses, the aforementioned analyses of immigration and reception in the local context have paid scant attention to positive impressions of change, ethno-cultural or otherwise, giving the unfortunate impression of the ‘host’ community as uni-dimensional and monochromatic—propositions most researchers and activists would oppose, I believe, were they to be applied to immigrant groups themselves.
Yet as Robert Miles (1989, 56-61) notes, the issues raised by defining expressions and actions through the lens of racism are not only those involving the morality of representation and typification, but also ones of empirical accuracy. Writing of the factors leading to comparatively higher rates of unemployment among people of Asian and Caribbean origin in Britain, Miles argues that those who would define all of these as racism because of their differential effects run the risk of presenting a simplistic and monocausal interpretation of exclusionary practices. While Miles’ argument is directed at those advocating a conception of institutional racism—whereby the uneven outcomes of seemingly non-racial discourses are considered racist, even if differential ‘racial’ exclusion is not the intention of actors in these institutions—his observations, I believe, find purchase with interpretations of critical reactions to physical neighbourhood change in the Greater Vancouver context. While local commentators have shied away from a more radical definition of racism as any discourse which legitimizes marginalization—in the broad sense of producing differential racial outcomes, however ‘races’ are defined—they have forwarded the argument that complaints over physical changes at the community level, particularly housing style, represent legitimating discourses that act as socially acceptable metaphors for underlying ‘racist’ fears about Greater Vancouver’s changing racial and ethno-cultural population as a result of immigration.
Again, as with so many other aspects of resident reactions to change, the process of interpretation here is complicated. Influencing the responses, to some extent, through the use of the interview format, and deprived of the clairvoyant powers that would enable me to uncover what residents’ ‘true’ feelings are (not that this is transparent to the residents themselves, either), it is impossible to discern conclusively whether ethnocultural or racial anxieties lie behind seemingly benign criticisms of physical community change. Certainly, considerable criticisms of development and population growth were advanced by the participants in this study, and many of these criticisms, such as the construction of ‘monster’ homes, were linked to the presence of Chinese immigrants.
Perhaps, then, it is not unreasonable to assume that while residents vehemently contended that their criticisms lay with the materiality of such changes, anxiety over physical transformations in the community was influenced, to some extent, by the ethnicity of those considered responsible for them. Participants did not, for example, seem overly engrossed with issues of development and growth in the pre-1986 period, while since then—and coincidentally, during the period of significant Chinese immigration into Richmond—such issues emerged as major resident preoccupations.
In expressing potential agreement with this thesis purporting to uncover the causes underlying resident responses, however, I think it is important to note that I have considerable hesitations about the ascription of all anti-development sentiment to concerns about ethno-cultural change. While there seems to be a correlation between the intensification of development concerns and growing Chinese immigration into Richmond, and even explicit linkage of the two by some residents, correlation does not necessarily impute causation, and there appear to be enough ‘reasonable doubts’ about the motivating reasons for protest to place this causal relationship into question. In light of the fact that many residents, Caucasians in particular, cherished what they described as Richmond’s semi-rural landscape in the pre-1986 period—and even cited this attribute as a reason they moved to the community—it does not seem unreasonable that continued growth, development and urbanization in Richmond during the post-1986 were viewed with significant concern. Had the participants not experienced a quieter, more rural Richmond, nor cited Richmond’s relatively quiet, suburban character as a reason drawing them to live in the community, contemporary criticisms about development might seem less plausible.
Moreover, it is important to note that such anti-development and growth anxieties have a broader horizon in Richmond and cannot be seen as simply derivative of the Chinese immigrant presence without omitting or downplaying significant contexts.