provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Thursday, December 10, 2015

White Supremacy and the Foreign Investment Debate

White Supremacy and the Foreign Investment Debate

Henry Yu is a professor in the History Department at UBC, where he researches and lectures on the history of migration, racism, and early colonial relations on the West Coast. The following is a version of a speech delivered by Henry at The Mainlander’s Myth of Foreign Investment panel in 2013.

The main thing I would like to do today is to concentrate on the question of where the history of racial scapegoating in Vancouver originated. To do that it’s important to begin from the beginning.
One thing that I find helpful in these conversations is to think about the question, “Who belongs here?” – “here” meaning where we are in Vancouver, but also in Canada in general. Many of you have probably heard that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are settler colonies that were built around white supremacy as a way determining who does and does not belong.
When I say white supremacy a lot of people think I’m calling people Nazis, but white supremacy is a lot more complicated than that. In its most basic form, it is an overt structuring of society that gives privileged access to resources to those who could be considered white, starting with European migrants. In reality the process was very uneven, so for a long time if you were from Italy, you weren’t actually white. If you were Catholic, you weren’t white; if you were Jewish, you weren’t white; and, if you were Armenian, you weren’t white.

This phenomenon touched all aspects of society, including the labour movement. If you go back to 1907, the people who were forming unions used white supremacy as one of their key rallying cries. One of the most popular bar songs in 1907 for example – the year of a big anti-Asian riot in Vancouver, organized around anti-Chinese, anti-Punjabi, and anti-Japanese agitation – was called “White Canada Forever.”

Apologists for the past

Today there are a lot of people attempting to apologize for the past, and there are also apologists for the past – but those are two different things. It’s one thing to say we had a racist past and to ask how we can work through the legacies of the history of white supremacy. It’s another thing to say that racism didn’t really exist.

As a historian I have no time for the apologists, because the people who were organizing white supremacy didn’t try to hide it. There was a Ku Klux Klan in Shaughnessy, they didn’t try to hide it. There were also anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Chinese groups and groups against people who were “Oriental or Asiatic.” There were a lot of things they didn’t like: they didn’t like Native or Aboriginal peoples, and they didn’t like Blacks. It’s very hard today to swallow the position that white supremacist racism didn’t exist then.

We have to always remember that this land is unceded. While violent tactics were certainly used, there was no Battle of Vancouver, Battle of Burnaby or Battle of Chilliwack where the British definitively defeated the Coast Salish peoples and then took their land. And secondly, there were no treaties (except for a few signed on Vancouver Island by the first Governor James Douglas – about 2% of BC), which is the other approach that was bypassed. There was no process where a deal was made: “You give us this and we’ll give you something in return.” So neither of those things happened. By our own laws, by anyone else’s laws, by any moral or legal accountability, this land remains unceded. This land is indigenous land. That’s why 98% of BC is unceded territory and there’s no way around that.

One of the things I think is crucial to consider is, in light of this history, what is the norm here in Vancouver today? One of my friends from university grew up in the Interior of BC and then moved to the Lower Mainland. He looked around at different communities in the region and picked North Vancouver. I said “Why North Vancouver? It’s a heck of a commute downtown over the bridge and all that,” and he said, “Oh, because it’s like how British Columbia used to be.” We’ve been friends for a long time, so I didn’t say, “What the fuck do you mean by that?” But the little guy in the back of my head was going, “What the fuck do you mean by that?” I didn’t press him, but if I had the question would be, “Do you mean it’s overwhelmingly white?”

Building the colonial myth

I’ll throw in another anecdote that I think is important. My kids went to Carnarvon School, it’s an elementary school on 16th and Blenheim. One of the things that they taught my third grader, my eight year old, was about how Canada initially had “free land.” All the kids made posters with, “Canada, free land, free axes, free horses, come to Canada!” This exercise was supposed to be their history lesson about who populated Canada.

I tried to explain to my 8 year old, “Well, it’s free for some people, because at the same time you’re taking it away from the people already here, so it’s kind of stolen land given away as a free gift. I’m not sure I would celebrate this ‘free land’ in this way since it was someone else’s, and especially given that so many other people weren’t allowed to come because of anti-Asian exclusion. So it was only free for some people.” Even though she was 8 at the time, my kid understood the concept of why it was easy to give something away for free if it has been dispossessed from someone else. The idea we still have of Canadian land as “free land” – that’s an example of the legacy of white supremacy.
Remember that 98% of British Columbia has neither been ceded by treaty by the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for over 10,000 years. The unilateral declaration that all of British Columbia is “Crown Land,” as if it was all owned by the King of Britain just because he said so, is a myth which recent Supreme Court cases have fortunately no longer been able to fully uphold. We are beginning to see the legal system consider the legal flimsiness of the colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and that all of this land was taken from someone else. Yet myths about “free” land still remain dominant.

The reason I bring these stories up is to point to the ways in which white supremacy has become so normalized in the mythic history of Canada. It is this process of myth-making that has made it so hard for people to even think about what white supremacy is and what it means.

Anti-Asian racism and the rewriting of history

For another example, why did the Chinese build the railroad? The answer that is usually given is because they were “cheap.” But what does that mean? On the one hand, Chinese workers were cheaper because of racism – because they were seen as more expendable. But there is another factor that often gets overlooked. Chinese labour was cheaper because they were already here, and because it cost less to get to the West coast by water by crossing the Pacific Ocean.

The irony is that from California, to Oregon, to Washington State, to British Columbia, the Chinese built the railroads. In both Canada and the US, the western ends of the railroads were built with Chinese labour. It was only after the railroads were finished that it became cheaper and easier to get to the West coast by land, by riding the same railroads that the Chinese helped build. It’s ironic because as soon as settlers started to come en masse along the cheap transportation that the Chinese had just built, people getting off the trains looked around and said, “What are all these Chinese and Natives doing here? Let’s get rid of them.” And they did, or at least they tried to.

Every time you think of the railroad, remember that the Chinese built it because they were already here to build it. Why that’s important is because it takes a massive amount of narrative violence to change the whole story of British Columbia and Canada. Right from the early years the narrative was changed to, “the Chinese are latecomers who are trying to undercut us and take our jobs away.”
The truth is the exact opposite. Unionization in San Francisco and Vancouver was based on taking jobs away from Chinese and Japanese workers who had arrived from across the Pacific. That’s crucial to understand because it’s one of the ways that we still accept the normalcy of the world that white supremacy built.

What’s wrong with Kitsilano?

I wrote an op-ed piece once asking what’s wrong with Kitsilano? What’s wrong with North Vancouver? What’s wrong with any neighbourhood that is “overwhelmingly white” in a census? People attacked me, asking “What do you have against Kits?” I said, “Nothing, my kids go to school in Kits, my best friends are from Kits.” What’s wrong with Kits is that there is nothing wrong with Kits. If you have a century and a half of white supremacy, you get Kits.

And then when the neighborhood shifts residents go, “Oh shit, there’s non-white people coming in.” When you’ve built a place around white supremacy, anything that destabilizes the status quo becomes abnormal and threatening. What’s wrong with Kitsilano? Nothing, it’s normal. That’s what is wrong. That’s the work that white supremacy did, and continues to do.

In the 1990s, after a wave of immigration from Hong Kong anticipating the transfer of its sovereignty from the UK to China, Vancouver was called “Hongcouver.” People in East Van weren’t saying “Hongcouver,” because East Van was already a diverse place with lots of Chinese. The places that were really resistant to this new diversity were West side communities such as Kerrisdale and Shaughnessy – areas that you could say had been living on the fumes of white supremacy for decades.

Yes, people were coming from Hong Kong. In making the decision between a one-bedroom condo in Hong Kong or a six bedroom mock Tudor mansion in Shaughnessy, many decided to go for the latter (the price at the time was about the same). The discovery that Vancouver’s real estate was relatively inexpensive in comparison to places such as Hong Kong may have been a shock. That some of the discoverers had Chinese faces was probably more shocking. I will talk more about the economic aspect later, but it is important to understand that one of the mainstays of displaying shock throughout Vancouver’s history has been racialized scapegoating.

We should look closely at dynamics that unfold when non-whites move into neighbourhoods that were built around white supremacy, like Shaughnessy or the British Properties. Properties in these areas historically had legal covenants stating, “Do not sell to a non-white person.” As in California and throughout the West Coast, property came with covenants stating, “don’t sell to Jews, don’t sell to Blacks, don’t sell to Natives, don’t sell to Chinese.” Of course, we don’t enforce these covenants legally anymore, but they were there. Particularly in those neighbourhoods that reacted the most emotionally to immigration in the 1990s.

A couple years ago, there was a controversy about whether places like UBC and U of T were “too Asian.” Maclean’s Magazine put “Too Asian?” on the front cover of one of their issues. The question only makes sense in the context of a society built around white supremacy. Questions like this can only go unquestioned if the assumption is that white society is the norm against which everything else is measured. They can only come unquestioned in a settler colonial province, like British Columbia, settled on 98% unceded territory.

Speculative real estate market is the problem

I put these ideas together about who and where we are as a way to understanding our past, but also our present, and to argue that if we want to move forward in solving any of these issues we have to think through the complexities of what it means to live in a settler colonial society. Racialized immigrants have since the beginning been scapegoats, but we also have to understand settlers as experiencing different degrees of class and privilege.

Today a lot of people are undeniably coming to Vancouver with a lot of money, and they are investing in speculative housing, because there is a speculative housing market here. They’re not the problem, speculative capital in real estate is a problem. It is the structure of our city right now. Indeed, from the moment of colonial dispossession of Indigenous land this has been a speculative real estate market. New immigrants didn’t cause this. If we don’t like it, then we need to change it. We have to ask what kind of structure we want to create in its place.

One of the last ironies in this history is the Downtown Eastside. It’s not the Downtown Eastside that people from mainland China want to move into. That’s not where the capital from the People’s Republic of China is flowing into right now. Yet the housing crisis there continues to worsen.
If we’re looking neighbourhood by neighbourhood, Chinatown is incredibly low rent too, and also facing a threat from development. We have so many Chinese seniors that need affordable housing, and yet we continue to build luxury homes for the private market. While wealthy immigrants are often blamed for lack of affordable housing, it is the speculative real estate market that those wealthy enough – Chinese or not – are capitalizing on.

One of the great ironies of the freeway fight in Strathcona and Chinatown was the way that it saved a number of areas. Those areas that were bulldozed, and where public housing was built like at Maclean Park, are still there and still low-income housing. But other places like houses in Strathcona that were saved by a broad-based, multi-racial progressive coalition are now a million-and-a-half dollars each.

This question of private versus public housing is an important one, and I’d throw it in as a last kind of caution as we think about real-estate economics and housing markets. The city that we most often associate with hyper-capitalism and neoliberalism is Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a colonial city, like Vancouver, built upon real estate speculation. And yet compared to Vancouver it is night and day.
Hong Kong has the highest percentage of its residents of any city in the world living in public housing. As much as money has been made in real estate speculation and development in Hong Kong, they managed to also house ¾ of the city’s residents in publicly subsidized housing using profits from that speculation and development. Why can’t we even house 5% of our population in public housing? I just want to throw that out going forward.

I’m a historian, and what I’ve said here builds on the past, because we need to learn from the past as we move into the future. If we’re going to live together here, we have to face our past, including the foundations of white supremacy, and how common it has been to blame Asians for all our ills; but we also need to imagine a future together where we can live together in a just peace, not the wary watchfulness between those who have and those who have not. Blaming Mainland Chinese for the affordability problems of an unaffordable speculative housing market is a red herring that misses the point. History shows, whether through out labour movements or the building of our neighborhoods, that this is a point that has been missed before.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Drawing a Line in the Sand: The Fight Over 105 Keefer

Controversial Chinatown proposal rejigged

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
By John Mackie, Vancouver Sun

Model for a 13-storey building at 105 Keefer Street (at Columbia) in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Model for a 13-storey building at 105 Keefer Street (at Columbia) in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
VANCOUVER -- A proposal for a 12-storey, 137-unit condo on an empty lot at Columbia and Keefer in Chinatown stirred up a storm of criticism last fall.
Chinatown activists felt the building looked more like Yaletown than Chinatown, and didn’t reflect the vision plan the Chinatown community had put together with the city.
So the developer went back to the drawing board to address their concerns. Last week, the Beedie Group unveiled a new 13-storey, 127-condo proposal at 105 Keefer that includes 25 social housing units for Chinese seniors.
“The previous proposal had no inclusion of seniors or non-market housing,” said Houtan Rafii of the Beedie Group. “We now have 20 per cent of the project, 25 units, of seniors housing.”
The building design has also been changed.
“The building look and feel, the materiality, the detailing is much more sensitive to Chinatown,” said Rafii.
“The massing, the size and the bulk of the building, its sight lines and its relationship to Sun Yat-Sen Garden (have been adjusted). The retail’s been rejigged. It’s all 25-foot increments, and it’s conducive to what’s found elsewhere in Chinatown.”
Still, the changes weren’t enough for University of B.C. history professor Henry Yu.
“I have nothing against the Beedie Group wanting to build a building that is condos, it’s just not here,” said Yu.
“This is an anchor site, it’s crucial for Chinatown as a heritage conservation area. It’s the heart of Chinatown. It’s next to the Sun Yat-Sen Garden, to the Chinese Cultural Centre, to the historic buildings on Pender, to the memorial square (at Columbia and Keefer).”
Yu would like to see the city take over the site, either by purchasing it or doing a land swap.
“Twenty-five seniors housing units I think is great, but it should be 250,” he said.
“If you want to rezone, there’s a high bar for rezoning in a historic area. This (proposal) is the same formula as a CAC (community amenity contribution) anywhere in the city for rezoning. So don’t do it.
“At UBC we did a study (that found) we need 3,000 Chinese seniors units over the next five years. Twenty-five isn’t going to get you there — 250 will get you farther. You’ll still have to do more, but that’s a better use (of the site).”
A city representative at an open house at the Chinese Cultural Centre Oct. 6 said there were no plans for the city to purchase the site.
The Beedie Group paid $16.2 million for the two parcels of land on the site in 2013. The site is 149 feet wide east to west, and 121 feet deep north to south. It used to house a garage, and will have to be decontaminated before anything can be built.
Beedie bought the site after the city rezoned parts of Chinatown, hoping to revitalize the long-moribund neighbourhood. Several developers quickly moved in, drawn by Chinatown’s cachet and proximity to downtown.
“It’s one of Vancouver’s most historic, revered neighbourhoods,” said Rafii. “It’s authentic, it has history, it has culture. It’s a great site.”
Architect Greg Borowski set up a panel at the Chinese Cultural Centre to show how the revised plan reflects the project’s “enhanced Chinatown character.”
“We’ve put part of our building adjacent to the (1909) Chinese Benevolent Society building, and compared items,” said Borowski.
“You can see (we have similar) recessed balconies, the 25-foot bay modules, the brick differentiation. You can see the pattern on the balcony guardrails, and the patterning on the window mullions behind.
“You can see the colour in the recesses of the balconies. You can see the parapets that extend above the principal parapet in front. The cornice line, you can see the two-storey expression at the ground floor with the retail. All of those things are directly informed by the Chinatown character.”
In the original design, the retail spaces on the main floor were long and had glass awnings. But Chinatown has historically been small shops on 25-foot storefronts, so the retail spaces have been changed to reflect this.
“We have fabric awnings. We do not have glass, and they’re retractable,” said Borowski.
“These fabric awnings go in and out, so it will also create an interest, because when someone opens their awning you’ll know they’re open. They’re all different colours, but then the colour palate is matched together so that it harmonizes.”
Yu just doesn’t think it harmonizes enough with the historic neighbourhood.
“You can do amazing things with that site,” he said. “It’s not being done with this.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


The heritage battle for Chinatown published in the Vancouver Sun, Nov. 14, 2014

Historic Vancouver neighbourhood is being redeveloped, raising fears it will lose its character
The marketing line for the Keefer Block condo development in Chinatown is “Heritage Meets Modern.”
But just how much heritage will be left after a wave of modern developments washes over the historic district is a matter of debate.
A new proposal for the 700-block of Main Street would demolish the last three buildings from Hogan’s Alley, a once-notorious back lane that was the longtime home of Vancouver’s black community.
Another condo development at 231 Pender would replace a funky, Chinese-themed garage that is listed on Canada’s Register of Historic Places. Angelo Tosi’s family has owned their building at 624 Main since 1930. It may date back to 1895, and looks it — the fixtures and shelving are as old as the hills.
But Tosi is 82, and will probably sell when the price is right. He doesn’t expect his store to survive.
“It’ll be gobbled up by the monstrous buildings,” said Tosi. “And then they’ll take it all, and it’s finished. They won’t keep the heritage on the bottom, they’ll put down whatever they want.”
His fatalistic attitude reflects the changes in Chinatown, which is undergoing a development boom after zoning changes by the City of Vancouver.
The protected “historic” area of Chinatown is now Pender Street, while much of Main, Georgia and Keefer can now be redeveloped, with heights of up to 90 feet (nine storeys). A few sites can go even higher.
Two towers are going up at Keefer and Main — the nine-storey, 81-unit Keefer Block, and the 17-storey, 156-unit 188 Keefer. Up the street at 137 Keefer, a development permit application has just gone in for a new nine-storey “multi-family building.”
None of them has stirred up much controversy. But a recent public meeting about a 12-storey, 137-unit condo to be built on an empty lot at Keefer and Columbia got people riled up.
“There was a lot of angry people that night,” said Henry Yu, a UBC history professor who feels a “vision plan” the Chinatown community worked on with the city for several years is being ignored.
“The vision plan gets passed, (but it has) no teeth,” said Yu. “Actually (there is) no policy, it’s a wish list of ‘Oh, we’d like seniors housing, we’d like to do this, we’d like to do that.’
“Almost immediately, the two (highrise) buildings in the 600-, 700-block Main go up, and they’re just basically Yaletown condos. Not even Yaletown — Yaletown has more character.
“These are straight out of the glass tower (model), no (historic) character, obliterating everything in terms of tying it to the kind of streetscape of Chinatown. You’re going to split the historic two or three blocks of Chinatown with a Main Street corridor of these glass towers.”
Yu says Chinatown has historically been small buildings on 25-foot lots, which makes for a jumble of small stores that gives it a unique look and character. But the new developments are much wider, and just don’t look like Chinatown.
“The two 600-, 700-block buildings have a rain shield that’s an awning, a glass awning that runs the whole block,” said Yu. “That’s the design guideline for the city as a whole, but it was nothing to do with Chinatown, (which is) narrow frontages, changing awnings.
“We said that (to the city planners), we raised it and raised it, but the planners just shoved it down our throat.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

Blaming the Mainlander--Vancouver & Hong Kong: Foreign Investment Crisis?

One of the other groups of students in my History 482 class addressed the issue of all of the talk about Mainland Chinese being the cause of our high real estate prices. They did an incredible job of thinking through the thorny issues and placing what is going on in the city right now within a longer historical context of the real estate market and colonialism in Vancouver.

Their work was featured in the Vancouver Sun in a story by Joanne Lee-Young:

UBC students tackle housing affordability issues

Organizers of donthaveamilliondollars movement gathered Wednesday night to press the provincial government to collect data on how foreign investment is impacting housing affordability.

By Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun June 25, 2015

Jane Shi, an undergrad student at the University of B.C., was visiting Hong Kong last week, trying to take on “the question of who and why people are blaming mainland Chinese investors for the housing crisis in Vancouver and Hong Kong.” In past years, students taking a UBC summer history course on Chinese migration have compared heritage buildings or night markets in various Asian cities. This year, with debate on skyrocketing real estate prices sparking racial and generational rifts, two groups in the class chose topics that are newly binding Vancouver to cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore: housing affordability, what to do and who is at fault.

Shi and a few classmates are making last minute edits and in a few days will release a short film called “Blaming the Mainlander.” It’s their look at “what is ‘foreign,’ and how and why when we say ‘foreign’ right now, we mean (mainland) ‘Chinese,’” said their instructor, UBC professor Henry Yu. Shi said “visiting Hong Kong (for the first time) and learning more about its history … helped shape the conversation a lot better, as resentment against mainland Chinese in Hong Kong can’t be exclusively explained (by race),” said Shi. “So there’s nuance that gets lost in responses to the conversation on ‘blaming the mainlander’ in Vancouver.”

Another group interviewed students, academics and policy-makers in Hong Kong to make a video comparing affordable housing solutions there to ones in Vancouver. The housing affordability ratio (median housing price divided by median income) in Hong Kong is 17, the highest in the world, while Vancouver is now at 10.6, the second highest. The higher the ratio, the less affordable the housing. The students detailed that while three per cent of residents in Vancouver live in government-subsidized housing, the number in Hong Kong, at 48 per cent, is much higher. “It was a profound comparison to see how people perceive government-subsidized housing,” said student Adam Gold. “There is a stigma associated with it in Vancouver. In Hong Kong, it’s normalized and not just for low-income people.”

The students find themselves posting their findings as the Chinese government’s top representative in Vancouver made the unusual move of speaking candidly about who to blame and what might be done to handle the current real estate market. Consul-general Liu Fei told the Globe and Mail this week that it’s “wrong” for local residents to be pointing fingers at wealthy Chinese buyers for driving up housing prices. While Liu acknowledged there is demand for Vancouver real estate, she called for government officials in Canada to regulate buyers, sellers and developers with quotas for affordable housing and for luxury houses, “higher prices for overseas investors,” adding that Beijing itself has strict housing policies in mainland China.

To date, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson has asked B.C. Premier Christy Clark to bring in a speculation tax against those who buy and sell real estate to make a profit in a brief amount of time. The province has said it has no plans to do so, citing a reluctance to hurt the home equity of existing owners. On Wednesday, Eveline Xia, who created the Twitter hashtag #Don’tHave1million, was getting ready to address a second rally to bring attention to housing costs and the challenges for millennials in Vancouver. In a prepared speech, she asks: “Will it actually take someone like the Chinese envoy to Vancouver to suggest government action is needed, before our own politicians finally wake up?

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Sun

And the film (online at

Blaming the Mainlander--Vancouver & Hong Kong: Foreign Investment Crisis


This film was created by students of Professor Henry Yu's History 482 class.

Filming locations include Shanghai, Vancouver and Hong Kong.

Created by: Amanda Chiu, Tyler Mark, Allison O'Neil, Jane Shi, Minnie Tsai and Ralph Tsang

Special thanks to Professor Henry Yu, our TAs Alyssa Leung and Joanna Yang, as well as all our interviewees.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why should the youth living in Vancouver and Hong Kong care about afford...

Proud of the work that our students in History 482 did these past two months. This is one of the three films that were made. This group's work focused on housing affordability in Vancouver and Hong Kong and why it should be of special concern to youth. Many thanks to the research assistants Alyssa Leung and Joanna Yang, both of whom were former students in the class who came back to help the students this year. Thanks also to Profs. Cecilia Chu and Christina Lo of Hong Kong University, and their students, for taking part in the exchange with our UBC students; to the HKU Shanghai Study Centre and their faculty and staff for hosting us in Shanghai; to Rocky Dang, Wanda Huang, and Dr. Selia Tan of the Cangdong Education Center in Kaiping, Guangdong, China for showing us the historic diaolou and villages of the area; and to all of the guest lecturers and interviewees who helped our students in their projects.

Why should the youth living in Vancouver and Hong Kong care about affordable housing?
Directed by: Emma Coffin, Adam Gold, Larissa Lau, Stephanie Nguyen, Samantha Truong, Tony Wan
Edited by: Tony Wan

Special thanks to Prof. Yu, our TAs Alyssa Leung, Joanna Yang, The University of British Columbia, and The University of Hong Kong.

As well as to all our interviewees: Jane Shi, Mandy Lau (, Leo Huang, Gary Tse, Tiago De Souza Jensen, Fraser Doke, John Carroll (, King Mong Chan (, Phoenix Winter, Patricia Chan, Sid Chow Tan, Constance Barnes (, Thor Boe, Kevin Pi, Jim Jiang, Jacqueline Lau, Yin Lun Chan.

Steering by Stars Closer
Insatiable Toad by Blue Dot Sessions
Charge into 2015 by Dexter Britain
Wait For Me by Aaron Mist
Intermezzo by Podington Bear

Data References:
Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2014
Numbeo, 2015
Demographia, 2015
Coalition of Progressive Electors, 2014
Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, 2014.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

First Class of Students

A story by Joanne Lee-Young of the Vancouver Sun about the first year of graduates from the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies program: Dominique Bautista, Elizabeth Cheong, Carolyn Nakagawa, and Nicole So:

Stories of migration bind students together

UBC program keeps stories alive

Stories of migration bind students together

Bottom, left to right: Dominique Bautista, Leonora Anbgeles and Carolyn Nakagawa. Top-left to right: Henry Yu, Alejandro Yoshizawa, Chris Lee, Glenn Deer and Anne Murphy at UBC in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , Vancouver Sun

Dominique De Joya Bautista, 23, who was born and raised in Vancouver, recalls that when she went in to take an assessment test for her Mandarin course at the University of B.C., the instructor was taken aback that she wasn’t a “European male,” but instead an ethnic Chinese female.
“My name on paper is very confusing,” said Bautista. “I am named after my parents and every day I am reminded of my family’s stories of migration.”
“I usually have to explain the Spanish influence in the Philippines and how when my family moved there from Fujian province (in mainland China), they changed their names, which was not uncommon, to fit in.”
With this background, Bautista has always been interested in how identity is shaped by migration and, growing up, she found herself volunteering to help Filipino youth adjust to high school in Vancouver or Chinese seniors learn English.
Recently, she graduated from UBC’s new Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies program.
This summer, she plans to research “urban nostalgia” and how “buildings in Vancouver, Hong Kong and Shanghai evoke a different time in a tangible and intangible way.”
There are just three other graduates from the program’s inaugural year, including Nicole So, who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver. Her studies included making an animated video titled 4 Reasons Why You Should Care About Vancouver’s Chinatown (, and directing a documentary titled Rich Asian Girl, which explored contemporary stereotypes.
This summer, she will intern at Hua Foundation (, a local group best known for highlighting the dilemna of consuming shark fin, and how environmental issues and cultural tradition sometimes clash, as well as promoting popular Chinese vegetables beyond bok choi and gai lan.
Another graduate, Carolyn Nakagawa, focused on the legacy of Harry Aoki, who overcame internment in 1942, when Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed from their homes on the B.C. coast, to become a musician and important community figure.
Elizabeth Cheong, who had already graduated from the Sauder School of Business in real estate economics, made a film about how Cantonese connects different generations of Chinese-Canadians. She will spend some time working with Carol Lee, the daughter of real estate mogul Bob Lee, who runs her skin care company from a Chinatown office and is also buying and leasing building spaces on Pender Street so they may be used for running “traditional Chinese businesses” that reflect the history of the area.
“We don’t want to say we are spawning a generation of activists,” joked Henry Yu, a UBC history professor who is the program’s brainchild. “It’s about creating a generation of incredibly engaged young people who can learn and produce knowledge for themselves.”
It used to be that in order to achieve university-level credit for this kind of work, students had to go to the U.S. and, in particular, California, which pioneered the concept of Asian-American studies.
These days, options include the Asia-Canada Program at Simon Fraser University and a newer program at the University of Toronto. But what may distinguish the UBC offering, said director Chris Lee, is “the level of community consultation is central.”
Indeed, on a recent evening, a group of Vancouver academics, business owners, filmmakers, volunteers, politicians, retired surgeons, tailors and architects, to name a few, filled the dining room at UBC’s St. John’s College to celebrate the new graduates.
Many have shared their varied family stories of arriving in B.C. from Asia, and sometimes even going back and forth over different generations.
It is an evocative location for talking about all of this because the residential college was started at UBC by alumni of St. John’s University in Shanghai, one of China’s oldest and most prestigious universities, which was closed by the communists in 1952.
Adding to the effect is an art installation of more than a thousand hand-folded, white paper boats hanging from the ceiling with string in a floating mass from one high window across the room to another. [Art installation called "Waterscapes: Johannean Journeys"--artist's description--by Prof. Gu Xiong, Dept. of Fine Arts, and Faculty Fellow of St. John's College, UBC] They represent a myriad of migration stories, said Yu. Some are small boats, others larger. A few are dented or look like they got crushed and were deliberately not tossed out, he added.
“It’s not just academic Asian studies, literature and such, but documenting, provoking and gathering stories and (fostering) discussion. It will bode well,” said Jim Wong-Chu of the program. He is the Vancouver author, poet, editor and historian who has long been the keeper of such tales in the Chinese-Canadian community going back to the 1970s, and was recently selected to write a “celebration book” about prominent Chinese-Canadian figures in B.C. history as part of the provincial government’s broader effort to make amends for its legislature’s role in discriminating against Chinese-Canadians.
“This is as much about making amends for the past as it is about looking forward,” said Yu. “Or the other way around. You can word it either way. You can’t have one without the other. The two are inextricably linked.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chinese Historic Places Nomination Process

Historic Places

Minister Wat with Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council Co-Chairs Henry Yu and David Choi on a walking tour of historic sites in Vancouver's Chinatown on January 22, 2015.

In partnership with Heritage BC, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Heritage Branch (FLNRO), the Historic Places project formally acknowledges and promotes the heritage values of places of significance to Chinese Canadians and recognizes places of outstanding provincial significance on both the BC Register of Historic Places and the Canadian Register of Historic Places. Formal acknowledgement serves as an opportunity to celebrate British Columbia’s diversity, and recognize the contributions of Chinese Canadians to the prosperity and diversity of the province - both past and present.

In early 2015, the Province launched a public nomination process through Heritage BC to identify historic places associated with the Chinese Canadian community in British Columbia. A total of 138 nominations were received for 77 distinct places. Of these, places with outstanding provincial significance will be acknowledged under section 18 of the Heritage Conservation Act by the Government of British Columbia and placed on the provincial and national heritage registers. Sites that are chosen will be announced to the public in late 2015.

The B.C. Register of Historic Places lists more than 3,400 historic places that have been formally recognized or protected by the Province or a local government. The Canadian Register of Historic Places currently includes 97 records for historic places in British Columbia with Chinese Canadian heritage values.​

Chinese Canadian history takes its place on British Columbia's map