provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

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.”