by Florence Hwang in Regina
Attendees from across North America gathered to discuss ways to revitalize Canada’s Chinatowns at the Edmonton Chinese Chinatown Conference, held on June 11 and 12. It’s possibly the first of its kind in terms of scale and scope, says one organizer.
Topics included “Transforming Chinatowns: Social, Economic and Cultural Trends” and “Development Strategy and Planning and the Chinatowns of the Future: What Would This Look Like and How to Sustain Them?”
The first conference on this topic was held in 2011, but it focused mostly on the City of Edmonton. This year’s conference took the issue to a larger stage, drawing on the expertise and experience of Chinatown activists from all over Canada and United States.
Conference organizer Lan Chan-Marples says some recommendations for revitalizing Chinatowns that came out of the weekend included hosting night markets, cultural festivals and historical walking tours.
Chinatowns were formed in the 1880s in major cities in the United States largely because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. In Canada, they arose with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, on which many Chinese immigrants worked.
These enclaves enabled Chinese immigrants to form tightly knit communities, capable of defending themselves against hostile external forces, and create job opportunities.
Before the 1950s, most Chinese immigrants in the United States and Canada came from the southern province of Guangdong. Since then, the population has became much more diversified.
Intention of the conference
Claudia Wong-Rusnak is the City of Edmonton Project Manager for the Chinatown plan. She was also one of the panelists at the conference.
Wong-Rusnak says there have been many decisions made in the past few decades that impacted the city’s Chinatown, but that they now need the residents’ assistance to put those plans into action.
“That’s why we’re having a conference. That’s why we need a comprehensive plan because the old one [that was made in the 1980s] didn’t materialize. The city council is extremely dedicated to seeing Chinatown thrive,” notes Wong-Rusnak.
She says the two Chinatowns in Edmonton, which are quite close to one another, have had competing interests, making progress difficult.
“The north Chinatown is a very commercial centre. South Chinatown is more of a destination and houses the multicultural centre, the Benevolent Association and the seniors’ home. Ideally, Chinatown should have both elements of business and culture,” she says.
“We’re suggesting we grow a core so that we can have a destination and explore those connections to downtown and to each other physically,” Wong-Rusnak explains. She also hopes that they can “continue storytelling and celebrating our Chinese culture through softer means.”
Revitalising Chinatown’s across Canada
Named Toronto’s first Chinese historian, Valerie Mah discovered very little had been written about the Chinese when she attended Teachers’ College in Toronto.
Mah was born in Brockville, Ontario, where her grandfather had a laundromat and her parents opened a restaurant in 1930. When her mother was born, there were only two Chinese families in town, but many “bachelor” Chinese men owned or worked in Chinese restaurants.
Mah is still involved with the Chinese community, even in her retirement from teaching. She sits on both the Yee Hong and Mon Sheong Board of Governors, two major Chinese retirement homes.
“My hope is to try and help 'East Chinatown' become a vibrant community. Some of the older owners are retiring and I am working on their offspring who are carrying on in the community,” says Mah.
Creating change through collective dialogue
Yi Chen, a filmmaker who was born and who grew up in Shanghai, China, was asked to speak at the conference about her 30-minute documentary that explored Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown.
Chen said she wanted to be part of this conference because it gathered Chinatown activists from major cities across Canada and the United States to talk about a topic she’s very passionate about.
“More importantly, this kind of collective dialogue about Chinatown’s future is unprecedented and much needed,” she says.
Like in Edmonton, the Chinese population in D.C. is hoping to revive their Chinatown by working with grassroots and non-profit organizations with similar interests, as well as the municipal government.
Nicole So, who has helped establish the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown group and organized the "Hot and Noisy" mahjong social events in Vancouver, saw the conference as “a unique opportunity that brings together individuals from Chinatown all across North America."
These events are vital “to further the conversation about the different Chinatowns, especially given the rapid developments and changes seen in recent years,” she says.
“Who we are, what we do and where we come from is nested in the history and lives [and] the actions of all those who came before us,” she continues. “So I think it is important to remember and cherish that, especially for someone like myself—to learn about their roots and remember how things used to be.
“New things are always coming along, but once old things are lost, they are gone for good.”
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by Dustin Godfrey in Vancouver
A new exhibit at a Vancouver museum is exploring the experiences of a lesser-known group of combatants in the Second World War, who were major contributors to Chinese-Canadian civil rights, according to experts.
The Chinese Canadian Military Museum’s “Rumble in the Jungle” exhibit looks at Force 136, a team of Chinese-Canadians trained by British forces to practice guerrilla tactics in Southeast Asia.
Borrowing tactics from the French resistance to Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the team fought against the Japanese advancements in the area,
Local historian and lecturer Judy Lam Maxwell, who wrote her master’s thesis on Chinese-Canadian war veterans, conducts tours of historic spots in Vancouver’s Chinatown. She said the reason for using Chinese-Canadians as guerrilla fighters in the region was largely due to appearance and language barriers faced by Caucasian Allied soldiers.
“They were British subjects and they were going into territories that were colonized by the British, but all through Southeast Asia is a sprinkling of Chinese,” she says. “That gave them power that they visually fit the part, whereas here, being in society here, they stood out.”
Launching the exhibit
The museum’s curator, Catherine Clement, says the exhibit’s launch in May was the biggest the museum had ever seen; in attendance were nine living veterans of Force 136.
Cynthia Fung-Sunter attended the launch with her three sisters and her two sons. Her father, Henry Fung, was the among the first group sent into the war with Force 136. She says she has had to piece together her father’s experience through external sources.
“I did ask, clearly, at different points, and he just would not give details,” she recalls, noting that the silence on the subject may have been due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“She did a fine job,” says Fung-Sunter, commenting on Clement’s work in the exhibit. “I honestly feel that Force 136 became alive in that exhibit.”
Force 136’s impact on civil rights
Clement says the impacts of Force 136 extend much further than the context of the war; its existence acted much like a civil rights movement in its own way.
“A lot of the [Chinese-Canadian men] who served in the war were actually not considered Canadian citizens,” says Clement, referring to the denial of citizenship to Chinese Canadians, including those born in Canada, under the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.
“It denied [them] the right to vote,” she says. “It means that even if you obtain a university degree, you cannot practice medicine or law, engineering, accounting — any of the really important professions.”
According to Lam Maxwell, after the war, many countries looked introspectively at their own racially driven policies.
“There was also the realization that all these countries were racist in their own way,” said Lam Maxwell, pointing to segregation in America and Canadian treatment of the Chinese community. “They were fighting for rights on many different levels.”
Clement notes that it was the contribution of Chinese-Canadians to the war efforts that gained the community a great deal of popular support for civil rights.
“The war ended in ‘45, and two years after, Chinese are finally granted the right to full citizenship,” says Clement. “A lot of it had to do with their service in the war."
In that same year, 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Ten years later, former Force 136 member Douglas Jung was the first Chinese-Canadian voted into parliament as the representative of Vancouver Centre.
The importance of remembering
Due to Force 136’s clandestine nature, Clement says it was difficult to garner information about the group.
It took about five months of full-time work to put the exhibit together, during which time she interviewed soldiers’ children like Fung-Sunter, whose knowledge of their fathers’ experiences was often fragmented.
Clement said she was interested in doing the exhibit on Force 136 now because there had never been one dedicated to the group and because of the shrinking number of living Chinese-Canadian Second World War veterans.
“There was this one last window of opportunity to do something to celebrate what they did while they were still alive,” she states. “And it’s an excuse to ask them more questions about what that experience was like.”
For Clement, there are lessons that today’s Canadians can learn from the history of the Chinese involvement in Force 136.
“For Chinese people, it’s understanding history,” she says. “How did we get here? This is not by accident; this is by things that people did for us, of [whom] there are still a few [. . .] around.”
Regarding Canadians as a whole, Clement says the lessons come back to the issue of immigration, which has come up in recent years in Vancouver.
“What do we learn from that? It’s that [. . .] making people feel different and isolated actually works against us as a community,” she concludes.
"Rumble in the Jungle" will be featured at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown until fall of 2016.
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by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
Tucked behind Toronto City Hall’s curved towers, on Elizabeth Street, is a modest patch of greenery outfitted with bright red benches and blossoming tulips. It’s from this spot — once a parking lot— that historian Arlene Chan reconstructs an image of Toronto’s first Chinatown.
Chan draws on a mix of personal history and research to inform her audience, who joined her Heritage Toronto tour of Old Chinatown on May 14. A librarian turned writer, Chan offers a glimpse into the lives of the city’s early Chinese immigrants.
“Why was there a Chinatown? Why was there such a tight-knit community?” asks Chan, before answering her own question. “It was because the Chinese were isolated. ”
Chinatown emerged out of necessity, with different associations providing social services, whether it came to finding a place to live or borrowing startup capital for their business, she says.
The origins of Toronto’s Chinatown
Today’s Elizabeth Street bears little resemblance to the lively stretch it had been in the 1930s. Gone are the streetcar tracks, the destination restaurants and the Chinese-owned laundry services that made it Chinatown’s first core.
Chan takes the tour group through several stops, starting with Old City Hall, where she points to the pillars carved with faces of municipal politicians and immigrants — including the Chinese — and then coming full circle at New City Hall.
The area and its surroundings (known as The Ward) was from the 1840s to the Second World War, a gateway community for Toronto’s new arrivals. Successive waves of immigrant communities— Jews, Poles, Italians and the Irish—all passed through.
Up until the end of the Second World War, the movement of Chinese immigrants in and out of the country had been regulated—first with prohibitive head taxes and then with documents called CI-9s, head tax certificates that were one of the first pieces of photo IDs in Canada.
“They were passports before passports were introduced,” says Lily Cho, professor at York University, in an interview. “These were documents explicitly used to identify people who weren’t given the rights of citizenship. You live here, you’ve worked here all your life, but you’re not a citizen.”
When the Exclusion Act, which banned immigration from China, was repealed in 1947, so too were CI-9s.
Canada’s adoption of the immigration point system in 1967 enabled Hong Kong entrepreneurs to invest in Chinatown at Dundas.
Redevelopment threatens historic Chinatown
But by the 1940s, the City of Toronto began eyeing the land as a crucial site for redevelopment, the linchpin for its plans to build a new city hall and civic square. Not only was it in close proximity to the seat of government, but The Ward was also considered a slum.
Media reports depicted an unsavoury climate riddled with crime and prostitution, an area dotted with overcrowded tenements and ramshackle storefronts.
“The Ward was considered an undesirable place; it had a bad reputation,” says Chan.
The City expropriated two-thirds of Chinatown, forcing property owners to disperse or relocate their business to Dundas and Spadina streets, explains Chan.
“They moved to establish their new buildings and facilities nearby, but that destroyed a lot of significant landmarks,” says Jack Leong, director of the Hong Kong-Canada library at the University of Toronto, in a separate interview.
By then, about 55 per cent of the property in Chinatown was Chinese-owned, says Chan. “People who had paid a certain amount for the real estate were not fairly compensated. They didn’t get fair market value for the land.”
What remained was a strip of unremarkable storefronts and forgettable restaurants, with little hint of its significance as the site where most Chinese immigrants settled into their new life.
The fight to save Chinatown
Seen through Chan’s eyes, Elizabeth Street looms large in the imagination. It’s where her parents, Jean and Doyle Lumb, opened their famed establishment, Kwong Chow restaurant. It’s also the last frontier on which the fight to preserve Chinatown was waged.
Together with other community leaders, Jean organized the Save Chinatown Committee in 1967.
The campaign mobilized in response to the city’s intention to acquire what was left of Chinatown. Council ultimately decided to preserve what was left, which also allowed Chinatown to be extended to where it is now, says Chan.
“My strong feeling was that it was [actually] because of four restaurants that opened after the Second World War,” she says. “[They] were dramatically different than restaurants in Chinatown earlier—the pre-World War II restaurants were very small, had a very limited menu and catered to the Chinese clientele.”
The “big four” restaurants, Sai Woo, Kwong Chow, Nanking and Lichee Garden, fashioned themselves as classy restaurants that accommodated large parties, offered a Canadian take on Chinese food and provided musical entertainment.
Chinatown also began offering tours around the neighbourhood, which wrapped up with a meal at one of these restaurants.
“All of the owners were prominent members of the Chinese community,” explains Chan. “Because of their leadership and interactions with Canadian society – politicians, celebrities started going to these restaurants. It turned people’s opinions.”
Today’s Chinatown is still bound together by a shared culture and similar values, notes Leong. But Chan and Leong say that Chinatown is always in a state of flux.
Condos have steadily sprung up on the south end of Spadina, notes Chan, along with new restaurants catering to the younger crowd seeking a modern take on Chinese cuisine. Such developments don’t concern Chan, who says Chinatown will endure because it knows how to adapt to survive.
“It’s constantly changing because the community has adapted as things are happening,” says Chan. “[The change] is going to take a while. It’s going to become a hipper part of the city; it’s going to reinvent itself again.”
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.
In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.
Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.
His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.
More foreign aid
Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.
“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.
“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.
He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.
“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.
Increase military capacity
Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.
“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”
He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”
Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”
“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.
Decline since Chrétien era
“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.
Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.
Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.
Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.
“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong is being commemorated across Canada by veterans and survivors of Japanese occupation and their families. About 2,000 Canadians fought to defend Hong Kong against Japanese occupation in Canada’s first combat mission of the Second World War.
“They were relatively inexperienced. A lot of them were new recruits,” says Patrick Donovan, curator of the exhibit Hong Kong and the Home Front at the Morrin Centre in Québec City, Quebec. “A lot of them learned to fire their rifles on the boat ride over.”
The Royal Rifles of Canada, Quebec City’s main English-speaking regiment, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in fall of 1941 to join a battalion of commonwealth forces totalling 14,000 troops.
On December 8, 1941, Japanese aircraft began attacking Hong Kong. A day earlier, they had attacked Pearl Harbor. The defence of Hong Kong ended almost three weeks later when Canadian and other defending troops were forced to surrender. Among Canadian troops, 290 were killed and 493 were wounded.
Hong Kong and several other countries and territories were occupied by Japan for the duration of the war. On November 4, 1948, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East found 25 Japanese military and government officials guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Second World War.
Personal experiences of war
“The occupation is something we never talk about,” says Sovita Chander, whose father grew up in Japanese-occupied British Malay. The former president of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which runs the Morrin Centre, Chander says she learned about this period of her father’s life through his memoirs.
“I can't imagine my own children — now in university — having to go through that, and my heart goes out to my parents who were so young at that time,” says Chander.
Her father’s memoirs describe how at the age of six, he and his family spent a day in an underground shelter as the Japanese army passed overhead. The next day, he watched his father stay with a dying Indian soldier, who he buried the next day.
“Despite the atrocities, horror, and depravation, he held no animosity for the former occupiers,” says Chander of her father, noting that Malaya was also a British colony. “He developed an international outlook that was liberal and tolerant.”
Chander says it’s important to tell the story of the people from the Québec City region who were in Hong Kong, including some people who were involved with the Morrin Centre at the time.
“We tend to focus a lot on the victories of the war and it tends to glorify the whole business of war,” says Donovan of the Centre’s exhibit. “It's important to look at some of the defeats, and this story is a tragedy.”
He says the soldiers who were not killed were held in Japanese Prisoner of War camps for the duration of the War. Many prisoners died of malnutrition or diseases related to lack of food.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 550 of the almost 2,000 Canadians who went to Hong Kong never returned.
“The Japanese still have not come to terms with what they did in the Second World War,” says Judy Lam Maxwell, whose mother lived under Japanese occupation in Hong Kong as a child.
“She had told me that because her father was a doctor, he could hide the kids in the hospital and they would be safe from harm,” says Lam Maxwell. “My mom, her siblings, and her mom are fortunate to have survived.” She says that her grandfather, or Goong Goong, was tortured by the Japanese, but also survived.
Commemorating the Battle
Lam Maxwell heard the stories of other survivors when she travelled to Hong Kong with ex-servicemen from Canada several years ago. She collected newspaper articles from Canada and Hong Kong that will be part of an exhibit at Centre A in Vancouver, B.C. later this year to commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong.
“Many of the Canadians and immigrants from Hong Kong living in Canada do not know this history and it’s important for museums and historians to share the significant link between Canada and Hong Kong,” says King Wan, president of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society.
The Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver will showcase “Force 136” on May 14 as part of Asian Heritage Month to commemorate Chinese-Canadians who joined the Special Operations Executive in East Asia during the war.
He notes that at the time, people of Chinese descent were prohibited from joining Canada’s armed forces. While many were rejected, recruiters who were eager to meet quotas accepted some Chinese-Canadians who enlisted.
The policy against Chinese recruitment was rescinded after the British government pressured the Canadian government to recruit Chinese-Canadians, as they could easily assimilate into East-Asian society and work for the army undercover. More than 700 Chinese-Canadians joined the Canadian army, mostly in British Columbia.
The museum will also commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong with another exhibit in the fall.
For Wan, whose family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, he feels these events are especially important so that we remember the service of both Chinese and Canadian soldiers who served in Asia and in the Battle of Hong Kong.
A poster recalls the Battle of Hong Kong to enlist new recruits to join the Royal Rifles of Canada, based in Quebec City. Source: Canadian Museum of History.
by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
Patrick Brown has already taken the Ontario Progressive Conservative party in a new direction since becoming its leader — now he’s encouraging his former federal colleagues to do the same as they try to reinvent themselves in the post-Harper era.
On Saturday afternoon, over 300 people filled a warehouse in Barrie, Ontario to hear from Brown and six current Conservative MPs, all of whom are at least exploring the possibility of running for the Conservative party leadership.
The event was called “Conservative Futures” and the majority of them were confident about the party’s prospects in 2019, convinced the Liberal government will defeat itself through a combination of bigger-than-promised deficits, unmet promises, and arrogance.
Fewer, however, were willing to really look critically at the past — and specifically the last election.
Patrick Brown was an exception.
“(It’s) important to have this pause and understand where mistakes have been made so we can go into the future with a sense of conviction that we’re on the right path. My sense, showing up to probably about 1,000 cultural events in the last year in the GTA, is that if we do not defend minority communities of every religion, of every race, then every other cultural group will say: are we next?” he told the crowd.
“I think we lost our way when we did not say that unequivocally. I think there were mistakes made, and I think we have to learn from that.”
Reconnecting with ethnocultural communities
As both his and Jason Kenney’s persistent outreach to different ethnic communities have proved, Brown added, many ethnic minorities share Conservative values. But the party went “too far” with its niqab rhetoric during the federal election campaign.
They alienated voters they’d spent years bringing into the Conservative tent.
It was a blunt assessment that only Conservative MP Michael Chong would come close to matching on Saturday.
“I think it’s clear in the last election we lost the ethnocultural communities in this country, and we need to regain their trust,” Chong said.
He then recounted the struggles his father faced as a Chinese immigrant to the country in the 1950s, only four years after the repeal of the Chinese exclusion act. And the struggles he faced as a “mixed-race kid” growing up in rural Ontario in the 1970s.
“I tell you these stories because we need to reconnect with ethnocultural communities. We need to tell them that we understand the challenges of coming to a new country, often with a foreign language. We need to tell them that we understand the barriers that they face; that we understand their fears, hopes, and aspirations; that we understand the plight of Syrian refugees coming to this country, scared, facing an environment unknown,” he said.
Closer to turning the page
Though Chong acknowledged the mistakes, he didn’t mention the niqab specifically. Nor did he mention the barbaric cultural practices tip line Conservative candidates Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander introduced in the final weeks of the last campaign, and which was met with widespread scorn and derision.
Leitch, who spoke of the need for tolerance on Saturday, didn’t touch on it either.
“We know as Conservatives that we have to make sure that every Canadian is treated fairly and equally,” she said.
“We are the party where families of all religious backgrounds, of all ethnic backgrounds, have a home. As Patrick was mentioning, Jason Kenney has done outstanding work in reaching out to so many different groups across this country. He did a remarkable job. And he had many of us join him in doing that.”
A few weeks ago at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, it was clear Conservatives were still bothered by the divisive identity politics that featured so prominently in the last campaign.
On Saturday in Barrie, five months to the day Canadians replaced a Conservative majority with a Liberal one, they came a bit closer to turning the page.
But they didn’t get all the way there.
“The reality is, in four years there will be people looking for change,” Brown said. “And if the Conservative Party has the courage to talk in a positive fashion…I believe there’s going to be a lot more Conservative MPs, and one of the people running for this Conservative leadership will be the prime minister of Canada.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
Flesh, Tongue, Yaya Yao’s first collection of poetry, brings you to a crossroads where you have a desire for belonging in the place you feel is home, but must first understand why your parents’ own upbringing makes finding acceptance such a struggle.
It is another example of how the need to reconcile with the past is felt across cultures and spans generations.
Yao’s collection recounts her adolescence between paradigms – past and present; tradition and modernity; a new home and the one left behind.
These are the fragmentations many children of immigrant parents experience, especially when they grow up in a culture that is markedly different from the one of their parents.
Yao’s poems, 44 in total, tell of the need for a continuous narrative and context for one’s place in the world. Her words, which sometimes appear scattered on the page and non-linear in form, symbolize this process of tying different histories together.
Language, history, family
Yao dedicated Flesh, Tongue to her father, Eugene Yong-Ging Yao, “who said he never got my poems.” Still, she made an effort to “get” him and her mother by learning their languages and sharing them in her writing.
Her poetry mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Shanghainese – sometimes translating these dialects into English to reveal similarities and contrasts.
To someone unfamiliar with these languages, they demonstrate that one’s identity can be made both richer and more complicated with their knowledge. The harsh-sounding words on the page force us to appreciate the challenges of learning a language that sounds and even feels different on our tongues from the one in which we were raised.
Chinese culture’s emphasis on ancestors and honour also emanates from Yao’s retellings. They express a definition of family that goes beyond a biological, skin-deep bond to something much deeper, embedded in historical psyche.
There is also a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.
Yao was born and raised in the Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods of Toronto. These communities are built on many histories that have been uprooted from around the world and will continue to change as new narratives take form.
She tells her story in a unique voice, yet the nostalgia created by her images is a familiar sensation to anyone who has grappled with understanding where they came from and whether they ended up in the right place.
Dundas Street evokes memories
Yao’s “living room over dundas” symbolizes many of the homes immigrants have built for themselves in Canada’s bustling metropolises.
For me, Dundas Street brings back images of my earliest memories, spent with my Iranian grandparents in Dixie, a neighbourhood in southeast Mississauga. I knew at the time that, when we walked outside in one direction, we would arrive at the park where Grandfather would push me on the swing.
When we went in the other direction, we would cross a busy street to get to Chinatown, where I would skip from stone to stone in the pond around the imperially decorated gazebo.
The street was Dundas, which I now know goes a long way beyond our old neighbourhood and is a meeting place for people from even further away.
The Afghani bakery, the Latino pharmacy, the Indian restaurant – they all hold the histories of many immigrants who came to Canada and undoubtedly struggled to find their footing.
Like my grandparents and parents, they felt the strain of trying to fit the familiar pieces of their ancestral homeland into the strange spaces of a new home, many miles away.
Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans. Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.
Reflecting on one’s past can induce grieving for what is lost, but also the recognition that there are parts of ourselves we can regain. Yao’s memories – built with colours, feelings and scents – not only tell of desperate times, but also of times when uncertainty was less destabilizing, before it beckoned us to question our place within our families, in society and in history.
“meet your younger
eyes, ones that never
doubt that you, now
are doing what you
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, ON.
by Jacky Habib in Toronto
Joyce Chan suspected something was wrong with her husband when he started losing his way to their local Tim Hortons five years ago.
“Instead of walking south, he’d walk north and get lost. I would have to go out and look for him,” Chan, 77, recalls, about her 82-year-old husband, Peter. She says he lost his way one day when they decided to go out for lunch. “We didn’t know where he was, but he had walked home by himself. He fell down quite a few times.”
Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia with symptoms including a decline in memory, reasoning and communication skills and a gradual loss in ability to carry out daily activities.
Over 700,000 Canadians live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, for every person with the disease, two or more family members provide care.
The diagnosis has taken a toll on Chan, who is Peter’s main caregiver. He has been on a waiting list for the last year to receive long-term care. The couple immigrated to Canada 48 years ago and have one adult son whom they seldom lean on for support because of his busy schedule.
“It’s not easy. Back home in Hong Kong, we have lots of relatives ... I can call them [for support],” says Chan. “We have been here so long and we have friends, but everyone has their own family and their own problems.”
Reverting to native language, reliving trauma
Sharon Tong, the support and education coordinator at the Vancouver Chinese Resource Centre (VCRC), says many of the seniors she works with came to Canada through sponsorship and this impacts the dynamic they have with their children.
Elderly parents often insist they can manage themselves and are not forthcoming with their children about their needs, she explains.
“They don’t want to put an extra burden on their children, but they don’t have a social network, because a lot of their social networks are still in their hometown,” she says.
The VCRC is an initiative of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. that began 20 years ago. The centre provides educational workshops in Cantonese and Mandarin as well as personal support and support groups for people with dementia and caregivers.
It has filled a gap for people who struggle to find services in their native language.
Ekta Hattangady, a social worker at the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, says losing the ability to speak English is a unique challenge for immigrants with dementia.
“A lot of people revert to their first language,” Hattangady says. “The services that are available to them last year are no longer suitable to them because they no longer speak English.”
The Alzheimer Society offers information in various languages as well as counselling with an interpreter. The most commonly requested languages are Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Arabic and Cantonese.
Another challenge with declining memory is that people recall old memories, which can be especially difficult if they have suffered trauma.
To deal with this trauma, Hattangady sometimes recommends attending programs or listening to familiar music, which has proven to decrease isolation and boost the cognitive processes of patients.
Accessing culturally specific services
For people with dementia who are in need of long-term care, dietary restrictions such as eating halal or kosher food can also be a concern.
This is where places like the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care come in. The centre was established in 1994 to serve the Chinese community. It now has four locations in the Greater Toronto Area serving several communities, including a dedicated unit for Japanese patients and another for South Asians.
The Yee Hong Centre incorporates culture in all aspects of service delivery, from the food it serves to the staff on site, who speak the same languages as the patients.
“When [patients] talk about home, they are talking about home in a small town in eastern China or a village in India,” says Yee Hong's CEO Eric Hong. “They may not realize they’re in Canada. Our programs cater to that so they feel they’re in familiar grounds and don’t get anxious.” Cultural music and newspapers at the centre contribute to this atmosphere, he adds.
Hong explains that the Centre also provides health care that is conscious of people’s experiences and expectations.
“Health-care [in Canada] isn’t as straightforward as people expect it to be. Even if [immigrants] get services here, sometimes they are not tuned into what a person of colour may want.”
This includes addressing different perspectives on what constitutes healthy behaviour, and the relationship between a health practitioner and patient, he explains.
Caregivers face challenges also
Isolation is another common experience of people dealing with dementia and their caregivers.
Chan shares the difficulty in caring for her husband who she says has not been the same since his dementia has progressed. She says Peter was sharp, intelligent and had a decent build, but is now skinny, weak and needs help with tasks like using the microwave.
Although he’s a quiet person who doesn’t converse with her much, Chan says when he gets sick, he screams at night and it’s tough to handle on her own.
“I count my blessings every day,” she shares. “I like to play Sudoku and to watch TV and to listen to music, otherwise I will be very depressed. I’ve got to keep up my spirits. I have to set an example for my husband. If I don’t think positive, he’ll be worse.”
Editor’s Note: Joyce and Peter Chan are pseudonyms as the couple did not want to be identified.
by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough, Ontario
At a time when national and local mainstream media seem to be downsizing and shutting down daily, where does Canada’s ethnic media fit in? And how will these outlets survive?
The 2015 Canadian edition of the Global Media Journal, edited by Rukhsana Ahmed, explores these questions with five research papers that “address challenges and opportunities multicultural (ethnic) media present to immigrant integration.”
Across the board, one sentiment is clear: when considering both its multiculturalism and national media policy, Canada must keep ethnic media in mind.
Brampton’s ethnic media bridges cultural divides
It takes more than receiving a press release from the municipal government to ensure ethnic media report on city affairs, according to a case study by Ryerson University’s April Lindgren. In her study, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, she suggests the city of Brampton is leading the pack in understanding this.
Interestingly, a decade ago, a similar study deemed the city of Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community.
So what changed?
Lindgren cites 2006, when the city transitioned from being a multiracial city with various visible minority groups making up over 50 per cent of its demographic to a city with a dominant South Asian — specifically Punjabi-speaking Indo-Canadian — population as a turning point of sorts.
This is when growing concern emerged from long-time residents about newcomers and the city recognized a need to amplify its ethnic media reach in order to mitigate brewing conflict.
The resulting strategy included hiring an ethnic media coordinator who had to speak Punjabi, standardizing advertising buys across a number of approved ethnic media outlets and translating all communications material into Punjabi and Hindi (as well as Urdu and Portuguese).
While it wasn’t all smooth sailing — for example, some papers thought the press releases were paid advertisements and invoiced the city for them — Lindgren concludes that municipalities that follow Brampton’s lead will find they are actually “providing a settlement service in the guise of a communication policy.”
This is echoed by University of Ottawa researchers Luisa Veronis and Rukhsana Ahmed, who studied four ethno-cultural communities in Ottawa — Chinese, Spanish-speaking Latin American, South Asian and Somali — and their access to and use of ethnic media.
They suggest the City of Ottawa adopt a similar strategy as Brampton and engage multicultural media, which is typically more accessible (i.e. free, absent of language barriers) as well as translate important communications material, particularly on the city website.
Chinese language media struggles to maintain standards
The pressing need for stability and growth often trumps journalistic quality for Chinese-language media in Canada, say many members of the Chinese Canadian ethnic media in Xiapoing Li’s research paper, “A Critical Examination of Chinese Language Media’s Normative Goals and News Decisions.”
Much of the pressure for remaining profitable comes as a result of increased competition from free newspapers and websites entering the market and declining advertising revenues. Case in point: one of the top dailies, World Journal, ceasing all publication in Canada.
But as Li points out, Chinese-language outlets have many important functions, one of the most important being assisting with the integration and settlement of first generation Canadians.
These outlets are also the preferred media for Chinese migrants living in major Canadian cities who are looking to gather both government and general lifestyle information, according to researcher Yuping Mao.
“The government and NGOs should try to disseminate important information in Chinese ethnic media and through Chinese social networks,” states Mao in “Investigating Chinese Migrants’ Information-Seeking Patterns in Canada: Media Selection and Language Preference”.
For this to happen, Li puts forth three recommendations for Chinese ethnic media in Canada: offer professional training opportunities for ethnic media journalists, some who are hired without any previous experience to reduce costs; explore possibilities of organizations like the CBC collaborating with major ethnic media outlets; and finally allocate public funds for multicultural and multilingual media — a model already in place in Australia.
“There is little justification for the absence of similar services when Canada is held up as a model of multiculturalism,” Li writes.
Younger generations distance themselves from ethnic media
While ethnic media’s importance among first generation Canadians is clear, these outlets are growing out of touch with subsequent generations, says University of Waterloo’s Augie Fleras.
In “Multicultural Media in a Post-Multicultural Canada? Rethinking Integration,” Fleras examines the shortcomings of “multicultural media” when it comes to connecting with readers and viewers who are resistant to being placed in ethnic silos.
The issue is part of a larger context in which second and third generation Canadians see multiculturalism as an “obsolete straight jacket,” the paper suggests.
Fleras writes that in 2015, 10 ethnic papers flourished in their federal election coverage throughout just five Brampton, Ontario ridings where there is a heavy South Asian population. This is at the same time when longstanding publications like Canadian Jewish News and Corriere Canadese struggle to stay afloat.
In order to survive, traditional ethnic media must evolve, Fleras explains, making several recommendations.
The most important one is to produce content that is reflective of the complex lived realities of racialized Canadians, many of whom subscribe to this mentality: “Do not judge me because of my ethnicity, but never forget where I came from.”
Research Watch is a monthly column on NewCanadianMedia.ca that looks at recently released and emerging research relating to immigration, settlement, immigrant/ethno-cultural communities and multiculturalism. Researchers or organizations releasing studies we should consider are encouraged to write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit