The immigration of the Chinese and their occupation of Canada have elicited a lot of debate among scholars. Together with many other communities, the Chinese occupied major towns including Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. This resulted in conflicts with native Canadians as the Chinese asserted themselves to be integrated in the Canadian society. The government’s efforts to use legislature such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 aimed at discouraging the immigration of more Chinese into Canada. This aroused worldwide outcry among various stakeholders forcing the government to suspend the law in 1940s. However, continued discrimination against the Chinese culminated in the adoption of multiculturalism policy allowing all ethnic groups to freely express their cultures. This essay gives a detailed outlook of these events and how they affected the Chinese community in Vancouver.
Chinese Community in Vancouver
Chinese Communities Culture in Canada
This research paper will discuss how the spirit of multiculturalism in Canada has impacted the Chinese community in Vancouver. The research paper will analyze the impact of allowing expression of ethnically distinct cultures freely in a multicultural society. The essay will argue that a society that allows for freedom of expression of cultures of independent communities constituting it through multiculturalism stands to reap benefits. This is as opposed to one that discriminates or favors some communities over others. The research paper will carry out the analysis with reference to the Chinese community in Vancouver, Canada. The Chinese Canadian history dates back to mid 19th century. Most inhabitants of Chinese origin in Canada have for the longest time occupied Vancouver. The Chinese first landed here in great numbers as laborers during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Chinese faced discrimination in Canada, compounded by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 which allowed only Chinese merchants to immigrate. They continued to fight from within and successfully in 1947; the Act was repealed following China’s collaboration with Canada in the war. This allowed continued Chinese immigration into Canada. Continued changes to immigration rules and regulations eventually ended the overt discrimination that persisted in Canada. In 1967, the Chinese were now fully allowed to enter Canada as independent immigrants. This saw an influx of highly educated Chinese who could fluently speak in English easing their integration into the Canadian community (Wong, 2007).The multiculturalism policy adopted in Canada in 1971 signified a major breakthrough for the Chinese community in Canada. This is because it allowed ethnic groups residing in the country to preserve and develop their independent cultures. This only served as a boost to the Chinese Canadians as they already had established residential patterns within the districts. They had also established sophisticated organizational communities in an effort to ward off discrimination from mainstream locals in the country. In addition, they used Chinese language in schools and the adoption of this policy only gave them an impetus to develop further. Today they have established Chinese cultural centers, memorial parks for their legends, care centers for the elderly and have been in constant pursuit of promotion of Chinese-Canadian cultural exchanges (Wood & Gilbert, 2005).
Chinese Community in Vancouver
The adoption of the multiculturalism policy in Canada as a state ideology was dogged with controversy with many scholars arguing that it would encourage segregation and hatred among communities. However, the concept may be looked at as a government’s attempt to instill harmony in a disfranchised society with an aim to restructure the cultural makeup and bring order into the society. For the Chinese, multiculturalism was a God send as it would boost their uninterrupted development into a Chinese-Canadian society. The acknowledgement of cultural pluralism meant that being Chinese while in Canada was equal to being Canadian in Canada. This ideal state of affairs was a reprieve after many years of discrimination. Through multiculturalism, the Chinese in Vancouver and other parts of Canada could for once enjoy the freedoms and privileges of being Canadian and in addition express their ethnic culture in line with the new approach towards enriching the new Canadian national construct. This integration signified a culmination of efforts by Chinese born in Canada who had struggled over the years to have the community recognized in the country (Wood & Gilbert, 2005). Vancouver recorded more vibrancy as the Chinese occupying it continued to embrace the financial support and legitimization of their culture which boosted the Chinese culture. This helped the Chinese to value and celebrate their ethnicity and to identify with the national euphoria that gripped Canada societies. The policy had set way for integration of minority groupings such as the Chinese into the sociocultural framework of a new nation. Developments in mainland china around the same time improved her ties with Canada. This was reflected among the Chinese occupying Vancouver who showed their support for the new developments. With Canada officially recognizing the Beijing government Chinese youths in Vancouver china town erected the Chinese national flag in their neighborhood in celebration. This was soon followed by the welcoming of a Chinese ambassador. The continued social and diplomatic ties between Vancouver and Beijing saw many Chinese in Vancouver reestablish contact with their ancestral land evidenced by the numerous visits there (Wood, 1993).
The cultural consciousness and social wellbeing of the Chinese living in Vancouver was not only boosted by multiculturalism but by other unifying factors on the ground as well. The Chinese had gradually lost their identity following the ban on racial attitudes. The Vancouver Chinese continued to suffer through government led efforts to displace them from their residential areas in 1950s. This was supposed to be as part of a plan to redevelop the city. The dispersal of the community led to loss of the physical embodiment that characterized their occupancy of the town. The ruins that were Chinatown became a tourist attraction site. The decline of the Chinatown encouraged the Vancouver leadership to map out a redevelopment plan. This was however hotly contested by the Chinese Benevolent Society with no significant success. Sensing ultimate eviction from the area, the Chinatown residents regrouped to stop the government’s plan. The group succeeded through mobilizing widespread support from both the Chinese and non-Chinese. On recording this success the group continued to press for improved services in the neighborhood. The newly aroused consciousness among the Vancouver Chinese is attributed with the birth of a Chinese Canadian identity crave (Wood, 1993).
In the years leading up to early 1970s, the Vancouver Chinese had aggressively expressed their identity through community sentiments and use of Chinese symbols as if to mark their territory. This gave them a new reawakening to struggle for the reclamation of Chinatown. This encouraged many Chinese who had hitherto never participated in the clamor for identity come forward to participate in the new revolution. The newly found community spirit created an identity for the Chinese in Vancouver. The efforts to reestablish themselves got a shot in the arm following increased immigration into Canada in 1967. The revival of the Vancouver Chinese community created a new hope that had declined in the previous half a century. With the revitalization of the china town in Vancouver, it has remained a historic location signifying the presence of the Chinese community within the city. Today, the ethnically oriented Chinese organizations operate from within the area. Most of the organizations are social based, they were critical in the rebirth of the town from the past generational version to what it has become today. As Chinatowns in other cities continued to decline such as in Victoria and Montreal, the Vancouver china town experienced a rapid growth emanating from the high influx of immigrants into the town especially since 1967 (Chui, Tran & Flanders, 2005).
After the Canadian government adopted the multiculturalism policy, the Chinese community found new reasons to venture out with the now assured acceptance in Canadian society. The breakdown of the spatial definition of the community saw the community spread to other parts of the city. Despite the continued outflow from the Chinatown segment of Vancouver, the Chinese never broke ranks with their past and would regularly return to do business or shop for items with cultural attachment. The need to remain relevant saw the organizations within the china town initiate collaborations with others outside the confines of the china town. This strengthened link assured of continued revitalization of china town. Immigration from Hong Kong also contributed majorly in the sustained development of Vancouver’s China town. Over time the Hong Kong immigrants gradually replaced the older generation of Chinese in Vancouver. The association of the new Hong Kong immigrants and younger professionals of the Chinese origin born in Vancouver introduced a new redefinition to the community in Canada. This saw the establishment of the Chinese Cultural Center in the 1970s which was a sign of the new desires by the community to make a mark in the Canadian society. The young professional demanded an integrative expression of the Chinese culture. This went against the general emphasis that placed distinction of different cultural groups. A battle thus ensued between the young liberal professionals and the aging guard of the Chinese Benevolent Association which had literary controlled Chinese community welfare since the 1940s. The leadership of the old guard had been predominantly made of Taiwan leaders of Guomindang orientation and were characteristically opposed to wave of change led by immigrants from Hong Kong. The ensuing court battles saw the exit of the old leadership and the immediate takeover by the new board made of young vibrant professionals (Maxwell, 2011).
To encourage continued cultural expression, the Chinese cultural center constructed a large building for use in cultural functions and events. The center became the focal point for Chinese culture development. Among the Chinese related events held there included the annual Dragon Boat Festival, New Year festivals, drama and teaching of the Chinese language. This was aimed at opening up the Chinese culture to the general Canadian society. The initial concept has been observed to date; integrating the Chinese culture with the traditional Canadian culture as well as selling the Chinese culture to other communities. The efforts to integrate the Chinese culture with others in Canada bore fruits with the establishment of a garden in 1980s in honor of a legendary chines immigrant, Dr.Sun Yat-sen. With funding coming from both the Canadian and the Chinese governments, the gesture goes to indicate that the integration mission desired from the beginning had bore some fruits. The garden is also managed by both Chinese and other community members (Nakhaie, 2006).
The happenings in Vancouver among the migrants who arrived after 1967 appear to indicate that the political conflicts that existed in the past have been forgotten. However, owing to the continued relation with mainland china, the Chinese community in Vancouver seems to have been affected by the events of 1989. The former residents of Hong Kong still hold grudges to the impact of mainland china politics on the sovereignty of Hong Kong. This was manifested by the reactions among Hong Kong residents in Vancouver following demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people in china that year. Hong Kong immigrants in Vancouver demanded the establishment of a commemorative park in remembrance of those who died in the demonstrations. This assertion aroused a heated debate in Vancouver with opposition from the Chinese community. This is a clear indication that suspicion between the groupings still exist and are influenced by the loyalty of home of origin. Since then, it has become clear in Vancouver that the turn of events back home is reflected in Canada. Since 1989, the Chinese community in Canada has continually voted the liberal and open minded Hong Kong migrants. Nevertheless, the Chinese community continues to offer support to all its members irrespective of political affiliations. This is usually successful since the services are provided by voluntary groups that are not linked to political ideologies but rather are founded on the principle of traditional Chinese culture. The growth of these organizations continues to manifest the continued growth of the Chinese community. The continued viability and development of the Chinese community in Vancouver is attributed majorly to the role played by these voluntary organizations (Shibao, 2007). Hong Kong migrants dominate the running of these voluntary organizations giving a new impetus to the old organizations and continually establishing new ones. The predominant associations are those focusing on music and the popular Cantonese opera; a story detailing the continued development and growth of the Chinese community in Vancouver. These began in the early 20th century and have continued to grow from strength to strength mainly due to the improved organization led by the Hong Kong migrants. With emerging technology, the cultural aspects of the Chinese culture seem to be under threat, but the people continue to make efforts to preserve them. For instance the Cantonese opera is regarded as strong expression of Chinese culture but its popularity has been dwindling due to the low rates of immigration into Canada. However the Chinese community of Hong Kong origin continues to finance and regenerate interest among the people to ensure it does not fade (Skeldon, 1994).
With continued modernity gripping all sectors, the Chinatown in Vancouver has not been left behind. It has continued to be revitalized by a resilient community to ensure it maintains the momentum it garnered in the 1970s. It is regarded as the index to gauge the vitality of the entire Chinese community in the whole of Vancouver. The community here continues to embrace modern education, careers, wealth generation while still maintaining the Chinese cultural identity. The Vancouver china town has propelled development in other parts of the city that retain the structural and cultural setup as characterized in Chinatown. The new locations created still retain contact with the Chinatown and offer similar services including commercial and professional facilities. Most restaurants are today located in the suburbs and others in the high end parts of the city. These strategic locations ensure that the Chinese cultural touch is felt far and wide for example in catering and business services (Sinn, 1998).
Of late the Chinatown has been facing challenges due to stiff competition from other enterprises in the Vancouver city and the frequent migration of the chine community to other estates in the city. However, it still retains the aura of Chinese culture and the locus of all traditional festivals commemorated by the Chinese communities. It can therefore be regarded more as a heritage center than a business hub. With little space left for any meaningful expansion, the Chinese community may continue to disperse further and wider. The invasion of Vancouver city by a class of rich entrepreneurial Hong Kong migrants of late is also shifting attention from the once extremely vibrant town. Most of these young wealthy tycoons prefer the modern designed suburbs which may be detrimental for the future existence and/or progress of the Chinatown within Vancouver. With their entry, the particular region that has enjoyed unimaginable transformation is Richmond. A dull rural suburb by any standards two decade ago, Richmond has recorded immense changes attracting a large population comprising of Chinese migrants. The prevalence of Chinese buildings in the area has left many wondering whether to classify it as a Canadian or Chinese city. In all forms of business ventures, the Chinese community has dominated with most shopping malls taking Hong Kong designs and patterns. The influence of the Chinese culture has infiltrated Richmond such that even businesses are run in accordance with Chinese practices since they practically constitute the largest percentage of clientele. The influence according to a recent survey shows that the consumer behavior expressed in Hong Kong perfectly match those expressed by both Chinese migrants in Vancouver and even the non-Chinese clients. The few changes in cultural set ups of migrants from China are influenced majorly by the differing standard of living in Hong Kong and Vancouver. While it may be expensive to own a house in Hong Kong, the Chinese can own a house in Vancouver with relative ease. All these factors have brought a relationship among different cultures in Canada allowing exchange of some cultural behaviors while retaining others (Li, 2005).
The plan by the Canadian government to embrace and value all cultures through multiculturalism policy served to help continued expression of their original cultures freely as is supposed to be in a free world. This may be the reason the multiculturalism concept gained support not only among the Chinese-Canadians but French-Canadians and Ukrainians as well. None of these communities had contemplated the aspect of assimilation and as such integration seemed the perfect option. Assimilation would be impossible and overly complex since for groups such as the Chinese, losing their distinctive physical features would require several generational inter-racial marriages. The integration through such a model as multiculturalism would instead see them participate in Canadian affairs as citizens of the country but continue to embrace and observe their ethnic and cultural identities. This would be more fulfilling as it would allow the sharing of ideas and cultural exchanges with an aim to enriching the general life of the Canadian society. The occupation of Vancouver by the Chinese offers a good example of the interrelationship among cultures and the need to have harmony in society. By allowing the Chinese and other communities express their cultures fully without intimidation in Canada eventually resulted in constructive relationships being built even between the two governments. This goes to show that cultural differences should not be used as a divisive factor but instead as a source of strength in diversity..
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