November 25, 2012 by Jennifer Hoff
***Edit: My blog theme does not seem to support superscript and subscript, so I have solved this problem by bolding the numbers that are intended to be superscript.
Richmond is the next big honcho of Asianness that has yet to conquer the world. I personally have had an acquaintance from as far across the globe as the U.K., inform me upon our first time meeting that they had heard my hometown was “the best Chinatown anywhere”. And that’s when I realized that Richmond, British Columbia, is fast becoming famous worldwide as an iconic North American city with a massively Asian-influenced lifestyle and culture.
At the Richmond Night Market
Yellow fever. Asian invasion. You’ve heard all the catchphrases, and if you live in Richmond, you know them to be words spoken in the most blatantly obvious truth.
The Asianness of Richmond, along with all the Asian stereotypes to go along with it, is something that is frequently commented on and joked about colloquially here. (Check out @RichmondDrivers on Twitter—their account tagline is “There’s a reason why God put us on an island.”1)
Before we go any further, let me explain that my purpose here is not to discuss stereotypes (and that means neither confirming nor denying the validity of any of them ;) ), nor to express prejudice against any ethnic groups.2 I believe that touching on a non-PC topic in a respectful and culturally sensitive way should not be conflated with bigotry. People should be able to discuss race without being considered racists, in the same way that people are rightly able to discuss rape without being considered rapists (sorry, I didn’t make that one up myself). My purpose is to muse upon the sociological significance of Asian culture that is present in the lives of all Richmondites, and for fellow Richmondites and people who are or who have temporarily resided in Richmond to delight in my commentary and to have something to relate to. So, without further ado, let me provide for you a mini snapshot of how and why Richmond is the utopian hub of Orientalness that it is.
Wiki and Vancouver Sun surveys offer us an explanation for all of this. “Richmond has 50% of residents identifying as Chinese, the city in North America with the largest proportion of Asians. More than half of its population is of Asian descent, many of whom immigrated in the early 1990s, mostly from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China.”3 “The city of Vancouver (distinct from the Metropolitan region) is roughly 50 per cent Asian, including Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese and South Asian. The suburb of Richmond is more than 60 per cent ethnic Asian, mostly Chinese, according to the 2006 Canadian census.” Just as a comparison, Seattle is only 14% ethnically Asian, while their Asian hub municipality of Bellevue is only 24%. Our Asian population is proportionally more than double theirs.4
You can see this reflected in the abundance of Asian malls (which are targeted at Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, and Taiwanese populations in particular), and in all the immensity and variety that exists as the Asian-run food and restaurants, many of which reside on Alexandra Road, known here in Cantonese Chinese as “Eating Street”, which is a part of what is known as the “Golden Village”. Can’t hold a pair of chopsticks? Prepare to starve if you are in Richmond. It is also reflected by the Chinese text subtitles which are plastered everywhere on our outside urban environment: on road signs; on the signs outside of businesses (e.g. literally all of the banks in central Richmond); and on menus of even as much of a cornerstone of Canadian culture as Tim Hortons (go check it out at Richmond Centre!), which many people here refer to fondly as “Timmy Ho’s”. Chinese is really the true second language that reigns in Richmond, with very little French to be seen scattered about. Walk out anywhere and you may feel like you were hit with amnesia and wound up in some sub-section of Hong Kong rather than in the middle of a Canadian city.
This pattern of Asian domination was also followed by the high school that I went to, Richmond Secondary. Again, Wiki is our friend4: “Richmond Secondary School is notable for its racial diversity and its large Asian population. As of the 2009–2010 school year, 54.8% of students listed Chinese (either Mandarin, Cantonese, or a local dialect), and 72.3% of students reported a language other than English as the primary language used at home. While unusual for a North American school, these figures are perhaps unsurprising for a high school situated in the city of Richmond, which has the highest percentage of immigrants of any city in Canada.”5 It made for a rather interesting high school experience, with students commonly walking around in the height of Asian fashion in the hallways (read: extra gaudy clothing as seen by Canadian-born people), Asian style snacks and bubble tea being sold by student business groups during lunchtime, and students teaching Asian language and culture to teachers during downtime being a common passtime and source of fun an entertainment.
As you might have noticed (unless you are “colourblind”, LOL), our school, Kwantlen, has a similar situation going on.
The fact of the matter is, our beloved city is one of a kind, and the prevalence of such a large Asian population not only adds to its cultural richness and harbors has its own unique cultural issues, but also creates a uniquely quirky experience that is an inseparable part of what it means to be a Richmondite.
1 Referring to the fact that we are designated on Lulu Island, of course.
2 Did you know that having a background of multiple ethnicities does not somehow magically negate the ability to hold ignorant viewpoints and to be a racist? To my surprise, some people have actually told me that they believed this.
5 If this was a real paper I’d be going one step further and quoting the sources of Wikipedia’s quotes instead of quoting Wikipedia itself. It isn’t though. Teehee!