I did training today with a group of Chinese-Canadian leaders for a workshop on storytelling.
There are some really good things – which I don’t want to spoil for those eventually attend the workshop, but I will share the story that I came up with. Perhaps you could draw the key concepts we were asked to include from my actual piece. Ps. the last paragraph doesn’t reflect reality.
Without further ado, here’s my short piece. I know I’m one day behind, so hopefully this is a good excuse.
I was born to an immigrant father who has 60 dollars in his pocket. Both himself and my mother were doctor’s in China. They had to restart their education from scratch in Canada. They lived in basements, cooked food for their landlords in exchange for rent. They had to endure prejudice from colleagues at work and financial struggle. I was born in Victoria, immune to the struggle around me.
As a 2nd-generation Canadian, I reaped the benefits of the economic success they had built for our family but blamed them for the cultural tensions they created within the household and the relationships I failed to establish with others – mostly white colleagues and white teachers.
I moved away from the Chinese culture viewing it as a crutch, a weakness, to be shed along with my integration into white society. In my childhood, going to ethnic enclaves such as a Chinatown began as a weekly obligation, a necessary requirement to be avoided. Sure, I enjoyed the barbeque buns but my father often harassed us back in the car to go home as soon as possible – the streets were apparently ‘not safe.’ As soon as I had another place to go – nicer, brighter, cleaner supermarkets in Richmond (similar to the way Toronto has Richmond Hill). I left. I pursued whiteness as a solution.
I was never told the stories of our struggles, the violence, to obtain equality that begun on these streets, the constant harassing of our businesses by bylaw enforcement officials, the exclusion of our women, the taking way of our basic rights to vote. I became a lawyer fighting for justice without knowing the story of our own community’s injustice. I owe it Dr. Henry Yu, at UBC, for teaching me and asking me to rethink my own story but also the role of Chinese-Canadians in building Canada.
I learned railroad wasn’t built us just buy us by hired help that we were here and built it for our own subjugation. This story gave me meaning.
I know many individuals feel the same as me. We’ve spent time in Chinatown but forgotten our roots to this space, and the roots to our identities. To me reclaiming Chinatown is reclaiming our history and showing Canadians there is more that unites us and divides us. It is a story of humility, of resilience, crossing ethnic communities. It is of grandparents, of kindness and generosity, of vendors feeding us and sacrifice on the street corners. Yet, I still see the same tensions that affected the relationship between me and my parent’s generation today.
Now, we need to ensure that Chinatown does not become a forgotten asterix, a planning. try but fail – or even that we failed. We need to support actions that allow us to apply for UNESCO Designation. We need to encourage efforts to support local businesses to ensure they are not subsumed by unhealthy gentrification. I urge you to come out to our next meeting as a guest to the Chinatown Legacy working group in a week next week and to support our event. We will provide our food to fill your stomachs from our local bakery, we just kindly ask that you make a small donation of $20. This donation will go a long way to supporting our initiatives and supporting our efforts to write a comprehensive report to council on the need for further funding for our next steps.