No sense of home

My experiences of growing up in Vancouver are different from most people’s. For one thing, I am a Vancouverite, born and raised here. Also, my family has lived here for four generations. However, my family is of Chinese descent.

I found it bewildering, growing up in Vancouver. I always felt as if I didn’t quite fit in, which is silly, considering I am a fourth-generation Vancouverite. I think it’s because people assume I am newer to the city than I actually am and that English could not possibly be the only language I speak. And I think it’s because people don’t know their history.

I grew up in a part of the city where the population was mostly of Chinese and European descent. I found that my appearance marked me as someone who would fit into certain categories, regardless of the truth. Perhaps it was where I was hanging out. People would assume I was ESL or that I spoke and understood Chinese (Cantonese).

It is strange to be regarded as a foreigner or a newcomer in the city you were born in and have lived in your whole life.

It is strange when people automatically assume that your parents must not be from the city and that they must not speak English.

It is strange when people hold so many false ideas about you based only on your appearance.

One thing I noticed growing up is that people like to be in their groups; they like to form cliques. Sometimes it was based on ethnicity, other times it was based on language. There is a comfort in being with people like you who suffer the same kind of prejudice as you do.

In the high school I went to there were clear demarcations between white and Chinese. Among the Chinese, there were further demarcations between those who were Cantonese-speaking “Hongers” (Hong Kong-born Chinese), Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese and Canadian-born Chinese.

Racial divisions exist even within schools. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver School Board

I have never felt that I belong in this city. I grew up on the West side, and I have never felt that I quite fit in; I always perceive that I am seen as an outsider even though my family has lived on the West side for four generations, back when it was known
as Point Grey municipality.

Growing up in the 1980s there was quite a kerfuffle about “monster houses” – I sometimes wonder if the consternation was partly race-based, specifically towards the Hong Kong Chinese at the time. This city has a long history of racism towards the Chinese community.

I also remember that it was frowned upon if you spoke in a language other than English, in public.

I think Vancouver is a very diverse city with all of its different-looking people with different-sounding languages and cultures. We enjoy eating food from a multitude of countries but do we converse with and become close to all the people from these countries? It is too easy to stay in groups that are familiar and comfortable. It is much harder to branch out. There is potential to build bridges and learn from each other; I know some people are doing this. But I don’t think enough of us are.

We see the city as this unfriendly, lonely place. We see the city where its inhabitants are not like us. Instead, we need to see the city full of people who want the same things. We have to find what we have in common instead of the differences. Because if we build commonality, then we’ll talk to each other more and learn about each other more. Because what’s needed in a diverse city is more interaction with each other and more understanding to find more common ground. Then the city won’t seem like some big, unfriendly, unfamiliar entity but rather a community of communities.

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