provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

History shows racism has always been a part of Vancouver real estate

History shows racism has always been a part of Vancouver real estate

From Vancouver's founding in the 1850s to the arrival of Hong Kong immigrants in the 1980s and debates around foreign money in 2016, race has never been far from the centre of the city's real-estate industry
http://www.straight.com/news/734491/history-shows-racism-has-always-been-part-vancouver-real-estate
  • null
  • Chinese immigrants began settling in Vancouver in the 1850s but, after 1884, were barred from acquiring land directly from the Crown. By that time, merchants were well-established at locations along Carrall Street (pictured above in 1897) but the new laws put them at a distinct disadvantage to white land owners. James Matthews / Vancouver Archives
A message was recently scribbled across an overpass in Delta. “Stop the Asian invasion,” it reads.
Last summer, in Nanaimo, a real-estate advertisement that included Chinese writing was spray-painted over with a swastika and the words Go away.
These are visible manifestations of a racism that has grown out of British Columbians’ frustration with real-estate prices that have surpassed the affordability of many long-time residents.
And according to members of Vancouver’s various Chinese and Asian communities, there are other, more numerous but less-visible examples.
In a telephone interview, Thanh Lam said she has noticed animosity toward wealthy home buyers from Mainland China in her work as a mentor for the children of new immigrants to Vancouver.
“What I see is a lot of exclusion,” she said. “People assume that they are well off when they are not. Even if they are financially sustainable or if their families are financially okay, people don’t seem to have a lot of empathy for what they are going through.”
Lam described it as no less than a feeling of “discrimination”.
“It is really easy to place the blame on foreign buyers, and it is really easy to scapegoat the Chinese community,” she said. “But there are so many different types of Chinese people here and from many different migration paths.”
Will Tao is an immigration lawyer based in downtown Vancouver. On the phone from Shaoxing, China, where he happened to be visiting family, Tao delivered a list of anecdotes he’s heard from clients and friends. For example, he began, a young Chinese man he knows who drives a sports car repeatedly gets pulled over by police despite never exceeding the speed limit.
“I’ve had Chinese colleagues who are real-estate agents; they feel like they have to actively work hard to try and convince clients that they are not one of them [selling to foreign buyers],” Tao continued. “The first thing they have to say is, ‘I don’t deal in that; I don’t deal with Chinese clients. I am not that kind of practitioner’.
“I think that they have to justify that, as a Canadian citizen born here, is a sign that there is racial tension,” he said.

“The first moment where Chinese were unwanted”

In British Columbia, issues of land and race have intersected many times before.
Patricia Roy is a professor of history at the University of Victoria and the author of The Oriental Question: Consolidating a White Man's Province, 1914-41.  In a telephone interview, she explained that in the 1860s and 1870s, as white people settled what is today B.C., they began confining First Nations people to reserves.
The overwhelming majority of the remaining land belonged to the Crown, she told the Straight. Individuals could acquire land from the government by outright purchase, by leasing for such purposes as cattle ranching, or by "preemption", which allowed settlers to receive large tracts of land from the Crown for only nominal fees.
But by 1884, Roy continued, the arrival of thousands of Chinese workers building the Canadian Pacific Railway led to a growing anti-Chinese sentiment among the white ruling class. In turn, the provincial government enacted legislation denying Chinese people the right to buy, lease, or preempt Crown lands.
“White people could acquire land from the government at little or no cost,” Roy said. “Chinese people could not acquire land directly from the government…However, they could buy land from private owners.”
A two-tier system was set in law, and those rules remained in effect until after the Second World War.
“The Chinese were discriminated at every turn,” Roy concluded.
In the early 1900s, real estate was already a booming industry for Vancouver. According to a paper by UBC professor David Ley, in 1911 there was one real-estate agent for every 150 residents. “It was difficult to avoid the realtors,” reads a passage of that paper that might remind today’s homeowners of mailboxes stuffed with pamphlets inquiring if they’re ready to sell.
A white-dominated press was already making an issue of Chinese-immigrant spending on real estate. But in a twist of irony, the complaint was that they were not investing enough in housing, as a 1907 cartoon published in the Saturday Sunset depicts.



A cartoon published in a Vancouver newspaper in 1907 illustrated white residents’ unhappiness with how they perceived the living conditions of Chinese Canadians.
Simon Fraser University
Henry Yu, a UBC professor of history and expert in Chinese Canadian studies, places tensions in today’s real-estate industry in this context of earlier conversations around the same issues.
“From a historian’s point of view, this goes right back to the founding of Vancouver and to the founding of British Columbia,” he said. “Who could preempt Crown land? Who could take this free land? Only people from Europe. And so, right away, began this idea that only migrants coming from certain places are reaping the benefits of colonial land acquisition.
“That was one of the privileges of white supremacy,” Yu added. “That was the first moment where Chinese were unwanted.”

“No Asiatic, Negro or Indian”

From Vancouver’s founding in the late 1800s, legacies of racist land policies remained with the city, and debates tinged by xenophobia have been repeated.
In 2014, the National Post unearthed a collection of documents that illustrate how land titles were used to exclude minorities from specific properties and areas of the city.
“No Asiatic, Negro or Indian shall have the right or be allowed to own, become tenant of or occupy any part of [the property],” reads the title for a piece of residential land in South Vancouver.
A property title for a parcel of land in Victoria that’s dated 1952 similarly forbids transfer of the property to “anyone other than members of the Caucasian race”.
Such covenants are still included in property titles today, though an amendment to the B.C. Land Title Act renders them void. As they make clear, other visible minorities have been discriminated against alongside Chinese Canadians.
Kai Nagata recounted how his great-grandfather, Kumazo Nagata, travelled from Japan to B.C.’s Mayne Island in 1900. In September 1907, he was in Vancouver when anti-Asian racism that had been building throughout the Pacific Northwest boiled over into riots.
“My great-grandfather ran back to the Powell Street neighbourhood, where the Japanese community was centered,” Nagata, a writer and former journalist, told the Straight. “The mob arrives, the police are totally ineffective, and there is a street battle on Powell Street where the Japanese workers and the Caucasian mob got into it pretty good.”
The riot continued for three days and left many Chinese and Japanese properties badly damaged.



During the Second World War, Japanese Canadians saw the government confiscate and auction their property while they were held in internment camps. Vancouver resident Kai Nagata’s grandfather was held at Hastings Park (pictured above) before he was transferred to a long-term facility.
Public Archives of Canada
Four decades later, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, Kumazo’s son and Kai’s grandfather, John Nagata, was removed from his family’s home on Mayne Island and confined at Hastings Park as part of the government's program of placing Japanese Canadians in internment camps.
Upon the Second World War’s conclusion, John and his family were allowed to leave the internment system, Nagata said. But by then, their property had long since been auctioned off.
“My analysis of the internment story is economic as well,” Nagata said. “It was an attack on anybody with Japanese heritage. And the response of the government was to seize the land.”
Much later, the Nagata’s received monetary compensation, but only a fraction of what their property was actually worth.
“My family has an interesting relationship on Mayne Island with the descendants of one of the families that obtained some of that land at auction,” Nagata said. “The Campbell Bay Music Festival takes place on a farm property that, at one time, was owned by my family. My grandfather is the guy who cleared that land.”
Today, Nagata said he sees his great-grandfather Kumazo’s third and fourth-generation Canadian descendants caught up in similar issues.
“My grandmother has been told to go back to China,” he said. “I think that we are treading over some very familiar ground if we choose to make this debate about how people look and what language they speak.”

A conversation Vancouver has had before

To understand how familiar today’s more heated rhetoric around Vancouver real estate feels to residents with long memories, one only has to watch a few minutes of a 1989 segment produced by BCTV, the network that became Global News.
The year before, the provincial government had sold the former site of Expo 86—a massive tract of land encircling the east end of False Creek—to Hong Kong developer Li Ka-shing for $340 million. Residential real-estate prices had skyrocketed more than 40 percent in recent years.
“The calm and serenity of Vancouver is nothing short of an illusion these days,” says a narrator near the beginning of the program.



Video of 1989 documentary on Asian investment in Vancouver
Concerns for foreign money in Vancouver real estate that aired in a 1989 segment produced by BCTV will sound familiar to people paying attention to today’s conversations about the same issue.
Global News
A man with a thick Scottish accent opens the segment. “I think something is going to have to be done about all the things that they are buying up,” he says. “Maybe some kind of law being passed, because they are buying everything, aren’t they?”
A narrator offers context.
“The problem is money and who owns it,” she says. “Every year, Hong Kong investors spend $2.5 billion in Canada, most of it on real estate.”
There are more concerns from locals. Then a voice for the government argues that its authority to regulate the sale of private property is limited.
“I think that Vancouver is seen as a very solid investment at the moment,” says a representative for the city. “Those are business decisions that are made irrespective of whatever we could do.”
A 1988 letter that a Shaughnessy resident sent to city council offers a sample of the public’s reaction to that wave of immigration and investment from Hong Kong.
“We—fairly reasonable people—fear the power that the Hong Kong money wields,” it reads. “We resent the fact that because they come here with pots of money they are able to mutilate the areas they choose to settle in.
“These people come—with no concern for our past—they have not been a part of the growth and development of our beautiful city—they have not been paying taxes for years,” it continues. “They have no right to devastate the residential areas.”
A 1992 letter from another resident of the same neighbourhood complains of properties used as vehicles for investment. “Now many of the people who own homes in the area don’t live here,” it reads. “The homes are empty. These homes are investments, perhaps one of many.”
In a telephone interview, Michael Goldberg, a professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, recalled that the interest in foreign ownership that ballooned those years prompted him to study who, exactly, was buying Vancouver real estate in the 1980s.
Newcomers to Canada from Hong Kong were active in the market, he found. But so were buyers from the United States, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Interprovincial migration was also a “dominating” factor, he said. But, Goldberg added, all anybody wanted to talk about was money from Asia.
He said he sees the same thing happening today when, last May, for example, it was reported that China’s Anbang Insurance Group was purchasing the Bentall Centre, a four-building complex in Vancouver’s business district. Goldberg noted that the property is surrounded by similar towers owned by German firms.
“And yet what attracted attention was when a Chinese insurance company picked up parts of Bentall Centre,” he said. “That area is owned either by Canadian pension funds or by German interests. But that’s not very deserving of a headline.”

 A question of identity

Debates around the role of Chinese money in Vancouver real estate have shifted over the course of the past two years. They were once dominated by the phrase “foreign buyer”, with anecdotes about empty homes in Point Grey that served as little more than safety deposit boxes. But in March 2016, the City of Vancouver released a study that analyzed B.C. Hydro data that showed single-family and duplex homes have a vacancy rate of just one percent.
From there, debates shifted to revolve around the issue of foreign money and questions of how local residents could compete with newcomers who brought vast sums of wealth from businesses abroad.
On July 7, the provincial government released preliminary data on Metro Vancouver home sales that alluded to how difficult it could be to separate foreign money from local buyers. The province’s analysis found that for a three-week period in June, foreign buyers accounted for just 5.1 percent of homes sold across Metro Vancouver. If foreign money is playing a large role in Vancouver real estate, the study suggests, it is finding its way into the market through buyers that the government counts as domestic.
Yuen Pau Woo is a former CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and a senior fellow at both UBC and SFU. He told the Straight how he has watched the debate shift as described above, which makes him wonder if the next turn in the conversation will move to immigration.
“If it goes in that direction, we’ve got to ask ourselves, are we a country that is open to immigration or not?” Woo said. “Do we welcome newcomers or not? Do we embrace openness or not?”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Vancouver advocates aim to save Cantonese as language loses ground to Mandarin


Vancouver advocates aim to save Cantonese as language loses ground to Mandarin

More than 389,000 people in Canada speak Cantonese according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report but some in Vancouver worry the language is fading

Canadian-born Claudia Kelly Li and her seven-year old niece, Alanis Wong, both speak Cantonese but Li says elders should not shame the younger generation into learning Cantonese because it doesn’t work.
Jennifer Gauthier / Metro 

Canadian-born Claudia Kelly Li and her seven-year old niece, Alanis Wong, both speak Cantonese but Li says elders should not shame the younger generation into learning Cantonese because it doesn’t work. 
Cantonese has been the most prevalent language spoken by the Chinese-immigrant community in Vancouver for decades but now advocates say the language is under threat.
More than 389,000 people in Canada speak Cantonese according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report but changes in immigration trends and pressure from the Chinese government to establish Mandarin, the national language, as the dominant tongue in Hong Kong is having a dire effect on the southern-Chinese language.
But there is hope among some academics and long-time Vancouver residents that the city can remain an outpost for the Cantonese language and culture.
“Language tends to be frozen by migration. If you leave some place, you tend to speak the language as it was spoken at the moment you left,” said Henry Yu, a UBC professor whose research focuses on Chinese-Canadian studies.
“That’s why there’s hope that in a place like this, if we have a Cantonese program, it can last a long time.”
UBC became the only university in Canada to offer a Cantonese program in 2015, thanks to a $2 million donation from the Watt brothers, who are long-time Vancouver residents and UBC donors.
At first in Vancouver, when they opened a Chinese school, they were taught in Cantonese, but now almost all have changed to Mandarin,” said Chi Shum Watt, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in the '70s.
“I want to keep [Cantonese] alive, if possible.”
Watt, a retired accountant who lived in Vancouver’s westside for most of his life and now lives in the endowment lands, saw the change in migration and language firsthand.
More than 400,000 immigrants from mainland China, who mostly speak Mandarin, entered Canada between 1997 (the year of the handover of Hong Kong to China) and 2009, compared to only 50,000 immigrants from Hong Kong, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This marks a significant change in migration patterns because in the 13 years before the handover, Hong-Kong immigrants outnumbered mainland China immigrants three to one.
This dramatic migration switch, coupled with the growing influence of China’s economy, where business is conducted in Mandarin, makes the preservation of Cantonese a lofty goal.
The heyday of Cantonese and Hong Kong’s influence in the world is over, said Yu.
“Hong Kong was the bastion in the 80s and 90s for Cantonese.”
The Chinese government has been successful in making Mandarin the dominant language in Hong Kong, he said.
“Within China it’s actually over the tipping point. Mandarin is the dominant language. It’s the language of power, it’s the language of education – it’s the language of civilization now.”
But Vancouver represents a unique opportunity for Cantonese immigrants and their children, who now live far away from the realities of Chinese politics. It’s possible Vancouver can become a last “outpost” for Cantonese, said Yu.
“Because of the large number of people who came in the 70s and 90s, who came from Hong Kong, are shaped by that moment in Hong Kong’s history where a sense of being of Hong Kong identity – of Cantonese at the heart of it – was so strong.”
At the direction of the Chinese government, schools in Hong Kong are starting to teach in Mandarin, which means that even new immigrants from Hong Kong often choose to speak Mandarin when they arrive in Vancouver. One of the only remaining sources of new Cantonese speakers is the offspring of Hong Kong immigrants and their children.
But some of those offspring are turned off by the pressures put onto them by their elders.
Claudia Kelly Li (shown here sitting with niece Alanis Wong) says language is an important way through which youth can connect with their heritage.
Jennifer Gauthier
Claudia Kelly Li (shown here sitting with niece Alanis Wong) says language is an important way through which youth can connect with their heritage.
“We can’t shame our young people about not being able to speak a certain language,” said 30-year old Claudia Li, who co-founded the Hua Foundation, an organization that aims to help Chinese-Canadian youth connect with their heritage.
“Yes it’s important to preserve Cantonese language and it’s important to understand how we can best do that with the interest that people have today.”
Li was born in Canada to parents who immigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong in the 80s. Helping youth connect with their heritage with language, food, and traditions is her life’s work, she said.
But persuading Canadian youth to learn Cantonese when Mandarin is undoubtedly the more useful of the two languages is a battle few parents win, said Yu.
Li, who credits her Cantonese proficiency to her relatives who only speak Cantonese, agrees.
“If you grow up as a 2nd generation or 3rd generation Chinese-Canadian … a lot of my friends have chosen to learn Mandarin,” she said.
But there is hope because some youth continue to learn Cantonese, including both people whose parents or grandparents speak it and Mandarin-speakers who want to add Cantonese to their repertoire.
Students in UBC’s Cantonese program come from a wide variety of backgrounds, instructor Raymond Pai told Metro in June.
Watt, who made the program possible with his and his brother’s donation, acknowledged that UBC can only play a small role in the efforts to preserve Cantonese.
“It can never replace Hong Kong. If Hong Kong people start to speak Mandarin, then I think Cantonese will be gone in 20 years or so,” he said.
But if Cantonese can be preserved, it will happen in Vancouver, said Yu.
“I’m hopeful that [the program] gives us momentum and as people realize and think about what we’re talking about right now, that other people will step forward and say yes – this is worthwhile.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

"This Used to be Chinatown..."

The rezoning proposal for a high density condo development at 105 Keefer in the heart of Chinatown is coming up again for a third time. I wrote an Opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun on why we should say no.

105 Keefer elevations for rezoning application
Image from: https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/beedie-105-keefer-youth-collab-chinatown/




“This used to be Chinatown…”
We should say “no” to rezoning at 105 Keefer for a 3rd time
by Henry Yu
Vancouver Sun, Friday, May 13, 2016

I travel to cities around the world that have Chinatowns—San Francisco, Honolulu, Brisbane, Yokohama, even Amsterdam. I visit because of my research as a historian, but I also have a personal interest. When I was small, my grandfather used to walk me to Chinatown from our house near Commercial Drive. My 4-year old legs would get tired and so he would always carry me the last few blocks. I loved the way the elderly men and women in the caf├ęs would greet us, giving me candy and teasing my grandfather about how lucky he was to have a grandchild. We called them the “lo wah kiu”—the oldtimers. My grandfather was one of them. He came to Vancouver as a teen in 1923, just before Chinese were excluded by Canada. He paid the Head Tax and spent his life working in B.C., retiring as a cook on an Alaskan cruise ship. Many of these elders, after long years of toil, gathered in Chinatown to eat and talk and joke with each other as they lived out their days.

I remember the sights and sounds of the streets—of fresh produce stacked on the sidewalks, of Cantonese shopkeepers yelling and laughing, of Mah Jong tiles clacking and rumbling like pebbles spilling on the floor. And the smell! Mouth watering scents of BBQ pork mixed with nose wrinkling odours unfathomable for a child. Chinese Canadians and non-Chinese alike enjoyed what scholars and heritage advocates call the “intangible character” of special places—the things that go on there, in contrast to the “tangible” elements such as the buildings themselves. Both are important for a heritage area, but these “intangible” elements are what helps us “feel” transported to another time and place.

When I visit other cities, I sometimes hear the phrase, “This used to be Chinatown…” What do they mean? The old heritage buildings remain standing, but something crucial has been lost. What is missing is what happens within the buildings and on the sidewalks—the “software” rather than the “hardware.” Vancouver’s Chinatown still has an interesting mix of older Chinese businesses and new non-Chinese. As John Mackie noted in a Sun story on March 24, 2016, this mix right now is almost ideal. But the balance will not last. Like two people on escalators watching each other pass, the older Chinese businesses will slowly disappear from view, eclipsed by luxury condos and trendy hipster bars.

Unless we help manage the mix of what goes on in Chinatown, we will soon be saying “This used to be Chinatown…”

This character of Chinatown—what goes on there, who lives there—it would seem obvious that this defines the place. But strangely enough the City of Vancouver right now defines Chinatown’s heritage only through architectural details. This is the legacy of 1970s era heritage policy, when things like the design of a window frame or the type of mezzanine defined heritage value. The rest of the world has moved on: UNESCO, the Federal government, and the Province of B.C. for instance, have all adopted “intangible character” as important in their heritage policy.

What this means is that when a proposal for rezoning in Chinatown such as the one for 105 Keefer comes up, city policy focuses on whether the windows and the mezzanine look like those in neighbouring buildings. Is that really all Chinatown is?

In 2011, the Federal government designated Chinatown as a National Historic site. Recently in 2016, the Province of B.C. recognized the heritage value of Vancouver’s Chinatown along with 20 other places around the province of historical significance for Chinese Canadians. HeritageBC also conducted a study that asked the public to tell what they valued about Chinatown. Unsurprisingly, answers such as the sights and sounds and smells of Chinese food and Chinese being spoken by Chinese elders dominated the list. They also saw those values throughout the blocks that the City of Vancouver defines as the Chinatown Historic Area (HA-1A—an area that encompasses Pender, Keefer, and Georgia between Gore and Carrall).

Chinatown’s character is defined by more than just the design of its buildings. So what should we do?

1) Manage the business mix

Is it anti-capitalist and an affront to private property rights to manage the business mix of a place? Of course not—we do it all the time, in mall food courts and places such as Granville Island. Optimizing business activities creates a special character for a place and makes more money for everyone. Making sure we don’t lose BBQ meat shops and fresh produce stores and restaurants like Phnom Penh and Newtown Bakery is crucial for keeping Chinatown a place worth going to.

But so is keeping enough Chinese seniors there who will continue to buy fresh produce and meat from those stores, and who show that this is a Chinatown that is still living and breathing and speaking Chinese.

2) Make affordable housing for more Chinese Canadian seniors in the area

A 2011 UBC study showed that there was the need for over 3000 affordable housing spaces for Chinese Canadian seniors over the next decade. We have many Chinese Canadian elders who require culturally sensitive care—nurses that speak Chinese, food that they are used to eating. The Simon K.Y. Lee SUCCESS Seniors Home in Chinatown has a multi-year waiting list. It would be cost-efficient and make sense to concentrate and coordinate the elder care services needed by Chinese Canadian seniors in one place. What better place than Chinatown to meet that need and at the same time honour the contributions that Chinese Canadians made to Vancouver and British Columbia? Elders also bring grandchildren and children to visit and so clustering seniors in Chinatown also brings in families.

But who should manage this mix? That involves a little bit of coordination. All three levels of government have recognized Vancouver Chinatown as an important historical site, now they should work together to enrich its heritage value.

3) Designate Chinatown as Vancouver’s second Heritage Conservation Area

Late last year, City Council voted to create Shaughnessy as Vancouver’s first Heritage Conservation Area. Whatever you think about taxpayers investing in the heritage value of Shaughnessy, it actually makes more sense for Chinatown to have a specific set of policy tools as a Heritage Conservation Area. It is one of the top tourist sites in B.C., and it serves as a powerful symbol of the important place of Chinese Canadians in our shared history.

But Chinatown is not Shaughnessy. It needs different policy tools. What goes on in Chinatown and who lives there—that’s what makes it distinct. We need the right policy tools and partnerships to renovate and manage many of the heritage properties in Chinatown, as well as manage the mix of businesses, services, and cultural programs.

If we do these three things, we can pay respects to those like my grandfather who paved the way for us and contributed so much to our common history. We need to again say “no” to the proposal for luxury condos at 105 Keefer. At the same time, we can create a special place that--like Granville Island--is a valuable asset of which we are all proud, and worth visiting for Vancouverites and tourists alike.

Dr. Henry Yu is a professor of history at UBC and currently the Co-Chair of the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council advising the Provincial government on how to recognize the historical importance of Chinese Canadians in British Columbia.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani

Henry Yu on A Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani, Roundhouse Radio

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani

 

Click links below or listen to all episodes on-demand at (scroll the right hand side menu): http://cirh.streamon.fm/listen-pl-219

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (November 18 2015)
Professor Henry Yu joins us to talk about revitalization in Chinatown, what heritage means to Vancouverites and what development means for the neighbourhood – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Sense of Place – Professor Henry Yu
UBC Professor Henry Yu is an expert on Asian / Canadian history. He brings us the story of the fight over 105 Keefer in Chinatown, and the future of it as a heritage area. Henry Yu is Minelle’s guest on Sense of Place this morning.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Dec 2, 2015)
Guest host Carol Thorbes speaks with UBC historian Henry Yu about historic First Nations and Chinese settlements up the Fraser River.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Dec 17, 2015)
Guest host Jen Moss speaks with UBC History Professor Henry Yu about the fight to re-zone 105 Keefer Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Dec 23, 2015)
Guest host Carol Thorbes speaks with Henry Yu, a UBC historian, on the narrative of white supremacy and foreign investment in Vancouver. Read Henry’s Mainlander piece
here or here
 
Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Jan 6, 2016)
Minelle speaks to UBC History Professor Henry Yu about what he thinks should be built at 105 Keefer Street, an empty lot in Chinatown that is the proposed site of a controversial condo development.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Jan 13, 2016)
Minelle speaks with historian Henry Yu about the similarities and differences between Vancouver’s & Honolulu’s Chinatowns.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Jan 20, 2016)
Guest host Jen Moss speaks with UBC History Professor Henry Yu about the evolution of Chinese food in North America and closer to home – in Vancouver.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Jan 27, 2016)
Guest host Carol Thorbes speaks with UBC history professor Henry Yu about midwife Nellie Yip, and Dr. Madeline Chung, who delivered over 6,500 babies in Vancouver during her career (including Dr. Yu himself...).

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Feb 3, 2016)
Guest host Jen Moss speaks with Henry Yu, history professor at UBC about ‘Vancouver specials’ and what was great about living in one

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Henry Yu (Feb 10, 2016)
Guest host Jen Moss speaks with Henry Yu, UBC professor of history about the intricacies of the Lunar New Year.

Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani - Henry Yu (Feb 24, 2016)
Professor Henry Yu speaks with Minelle about race and the media.







A Sense of Place

My passion and work is in cultural and feminist geography, and understanding how race works in the city.  Vancouver is rich with fascinating people and stories. Sense of Place is for Vancouverites who are ready to dive deep into a world of greater understanding.  Oh, and I also just happen to love pop culture, particularly TV dramas.
I understand the value and importance of place and belonging.  It’s what citizens long for. Unfortunately, isolation and marginalization continue to exist in Vancouver. Why? We'll find out. The reality is, locations hold meaning.  And histories.  By connecting with our communities, we connect with each other.
I intend to look beyond the obvious, to question even the seemingly good work. We'll be edgy, provocative & pithy.  How do we chart out creative serendipity in our city? With that framing, I’ll take you through conversations with ‘unlikely allies’, ‘tempered radicals’ and those facing major personal ‘turning points’.

About Minelle

Minelle is an author, journalist and Associate Professor of Human Geography and Planning, and the Program in Journalism at University of Toronto-Scarborough. She has written two books: Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality and Global Mixed Race. She has worked in the not-for-profit sector in Vancouver for the former firm IMPACS – Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society - and sits on the steering committee of UBC’s journalism school. She is former President of the Association for Canadian Studies and has won several awards, including a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award for her contributions to journalism. She is a former CBC TV journalist who worked on The National. Minelle took a sabbatical from University of Toronto to take on this exciting role at Roundhouse Radio. She's enthusiastic about what Roundhouse represents - inspiring active community citizenry. Roundhouse’s commitment to solutions-oriented programming echoes Minelle’s own professional passions – to encourage a heightened sense of human flourishing for all Vancouver residents. "Roundhouse hopes to be a conduit for so many underrepresented groups in this city. As a person of colour, of mixed race descent, I’m obviously supportive of that project. I’m personally committed to entertaining audiences, but also educating and inspiring listeners to shed light on the complexities of city life today."

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.
—Editors

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
http://www.vancouversun.com/business/story.html?id=11438334&__lsa=1a03-5620

 
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.”
jmackie@vancouversun.com
===
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

 

The heritage battle for Chinatown

http://www.getintheknow.ca/news/article/201411/heritage-battle-chinatownoriginally 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.”