One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness

Chinese-only signs dominate the Richmond Night Market, an example of the cultural cesspool threatening to drown to Richmond’s noble white heritage.

January 14th’s Vancouver Sun raised an important question: When will it finally be okay to openly hate the Lower Mainland’s rapidly expanding Chinese population?

To be fair, the question was couched and carefully sugar-coated as a debate on whether there should be a restriction on the number of “Chinese”-only signs in Richmond, but let’s face it: white British Columbians love being able to complain about the Chinese whenever they can smoke-screen it behind a debate on common decency or civic responsibility.

We all long for those dreamy, care-free days when “those damn UBC condo owners” were blocking the progress of a hospice because of their culture’s phobias and superstitions regarding the dead and dying taking up residence in their backyard. But we weren’t attacking them because of their race or culture, we were attacking them for being bad, selfish, nasty, rude and insensitive human beings who just so happened to be Chinese.

But when the Sun’s Douglas Todd brought us the story of a Richmond woman who was getting the “bureaucratic brush-off in her efforts to restrict the predominance of Chinese-language signs in her hometown,” I knew that the glory days of uninhibited Chinese-bashing might just have returned to us again.

First, allow me to pick apart that opening sentence: a “Richmond woman,” who we can only assume is not of Asian descent is getting the “bureaucratic brush-off” for trying to restrict Chinese-language signs in her hometown. Unlike those immigrants who aren’t really “from here.”

The Richmond woman in question is Kerry Starchuk, whose linkedin profile states that she works as a Personal Home Manager at Kerry, the Social Butterfly which does not appear to be a business, but rather a personal statement about her winning personality. If it is a business, however, you can bet your ass its sign is in English — as God intended. But not French, that would be a little gay.

Kerry, the Social Butterfly.

Todd argues that there are many reasons to support Starchuk’s campaign, which has since been “stonewalled” despite her many letters to the editor and “buttonholing” of politicians. Todd argues that Starchuk is not alone in her feeling that the many Chinese-only restaurant and retail signs around the city need to be reduced, or at least offer an English translation, but fails to mention anyone that has taken up under Starchuk’s banner (other than himself, of course). He goes on in the article to outline how British Columbians need a common language to flourish, taking his talking points from studies released in the Fall by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney:

1) Learning English may be good for immigrants’ health.

2) Everything that encourages new-comers to learn English, including having to understand signs, contributes to their financial well-being.

3) An emphasis on English-language signs will help reduce the segregating effects caused by the rise of Canadian ethnic enclaves, which have expanded from just six in 1976 to more than 260.

Then there’s this doozy: “Although these dominant foreign-language signs are permitted under provincial legislation, presumably in the name of freedom of expression, they constitute a misguided approach to multiculturalism.”

Kerry Starchuk and Douglass Todd think Canada’s mosaic could use fewer Asian tiles.

I’m the first person to say that “legal” and “moral” aren’t exactly synonyms, but come on. First, it is currently legal. They are not breaking any laws. But second – and this is probably the most important element of all – if a store does not have any English signage, what are the chances that its owners speak a great deal of English? What are the chances that the menus are in English or that anyone will be able to assist you? In short: for many of these retail or restaurant locations, wouldn’t English signage effectively amount to false advertising?

Then there’s the second issue, which is that no one thinks that calling an Italian restaurant “Luigi’s Ristorante” is terribly exclusionary and a misguided approach to multiculturalism. It’s expected because even someone with no exposure to Italian can probably figure out that Luigi’s Ristorante isn’t a sporting goods store. But that’s because English and Italian and French and Spanish and a whole pile of other languages share the same basic alphabet. Chinese – or, more accurately Mandarin and/or Cantonese – do not.

Another example of a culture trying to destroy Canada’s values by refusing to offer an English translation.

You can absolutely make the argument that if someone is going to immigrate to a new country they ought to learn the language first. And it’s a fine argument, but the trouble is that current Canadian immigration laws might require one person in a family to learn English, but then once that family member becomes a citizen, they are able to bring over their mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents without the same language requirements being applied to them. If you have a problem with the predominance of Chinese-only signs (but really Chinese-only people, let’s be real), then your issue should be with immigration, not a provincial law on signage.

Ultimately, signs are a reflection of the behavior and attitudes of a society, not its cause. A town with a population of great drivers doesn’t need to have a thousand traffic lights, stop signs and crossing guards. And a city – or a province, or a country – with a firm immigration policy on English or French language requirements for its residents and citizens wouldn’t need to restrict its number of Chinese-only signs.

I’m not saying that Todd and Starchuk are wrong, but I am saying that they’ve aimed their fight at the very tail end of the actual issue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece previously referred to Douglas Todd and Kerry Starchuk as “racists.” Todd, although he did not directly request we remove the reference to him as a racist, tacitly threatened legal action were we to not remove it. While as editor I take a different stance, Arboleda has requested this line be removed.

So The Pletteau is no longer directly alleging that Douglas Todd is a racist, although About does refer to Todd as an “anti-atheist bigot,” so take it with a grain of salt. We have been wrong before.


Sarah Arboleda contributed this article to The Daily Pletteau. Read about her here.


17 Comments on “One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness”

  1. Jason says:

    1) Easily to lay the blame on one particular group. Wouldn’t it be the same kind of complaint if a Chinese city in China requested their signs to be in Chinese if a white person opened shop with an English-only sign? Actually it depends, as a lot of Asians embrace Western culture. The only concern I could think of is that people wouldn’t go to that shop because they don’t understand what the Caucasian-opened shop is really about unless some Asian people could read English. .. But I don’t see some Caucasians say that they need to learn Chinese? 😛

    2) It is exaggerated that there are more signs in Chinese than in English. Richmond is a city with 60% Asian population, so naturally, the signs are more catered to the majority.

    3) I am a CBC living in Richmond, and I agree that there is a need for a degree of English signs, but that doesn’t mean that ALL Asian shops don’t have ANY signs in English. In fact just by driving around town there is a lot of English signs in tandem with Chinese signs. Some major Asian-owned stores (i.e. Giordano, The Daiso, 12 Baskets) have either just English signs or both English and Chinese on them.

    4) How can a senior immigrant learn English when s/he has been around for more than 70+ years? Unless a person has a willingness to learn, it is hard for those people at that age to be expected to know English unless they have been fluent before they came. Hence, it is racism indeed.

    • James says:

      1) I guess. And I think Kerry The Social Butterfly’s argument is that she shouldn’t have to learn Chinese.

      2) Agreed, mostly.

      3) Yeah, you’re right. I think it’s also important to remember that if a store has no signs in English, odds are that the staff don’t speak English — otherwise the signs would be in English.

      4) You’ve lost me. What you’re suggesting isn’t racist because languages can be learned by anybody. Maybe that scenario is ageist, but it is definitely not racist. A fine difference, I think. But on the other hand, it is possible for older people to learn additional languages. Your faculty for learning a new language peaks at about 16 years of age, but it remains unchanged for a lot of your life.

    • the beaver says:

      You’ve got racism and a desire for proper communication between Canadians mixed up my friend.

    • the beaver says:

      There are people other than just caucasions and chinese in richmond as I’m sure you know. Don’t you think having Chinese only signs excludes other immigrants and visitors who may not know how to read chinese but came to country expecting to navigate canadian society using English?

      I just thought I might ask you also if you thought calling yourself a cbc is racist? if not what is it? You’re a canadian or your not, there’s no hyphenation on your passport or Birth Certificate buddy.

      • Really? Canadians of all backgrounds don’t try to claim that they are Canadian +?

        I know so many people who talk about how they’re ‘Polish/Italian/French/Spanish,” etc. even when they were born and raised in Canada. The hyphenated nationality is not exclusive to the Chinese.

        But look for more commentary on this issue tomorrow when my follow-up article “drops,” as the kids say.

      • the beaver says:

        They should because it just promotes separation. I’m different from you because I was born in such in such place. It’s another wall in front of a harmonious society, the first one being language.

      • James says:

        That’s funny, because later you argue that the issue isn’t about race but about language. Here you argue it’s about race.

        QED — which is latin for “gotchya!”

  2. the beaver says:

    So I suppose Kerry would have your support if she were to approach the issue head on and tackled immigration reform. I’m sure you would be pretty popular if you were to advocate keeping families apart as you suggest should happen.

    Also, the issue isn’t race, it’s language and I’m sure all the non-english proficient richmondites might appreciate your blog if only they could read English!

    Let us all hope the fall of the Tower of Babel.

    • Funny you should say that, since this article has been linked by a blog written in Mandarin.

      • the beaver says:

        That’s great. is it translated as well?

        Wouldn’t it be great if they could kindly translate their signs as easily as your blog?
        wait a minute.. there might be an app for that.

        Canada does a good job providing translators, interpreters, esl and new immigrant programs and return gets excluded by our new residents in some respects.

        if a group thinks that another language should be official well then lets start the discussion and prepare for the change. Just going ahead with it is a recipe for what’s happening now.

        The issue is language and you shouldn’t dismiss all rational arguments as a front for racism…. that’s just bigotry.

  3. […] a week or so ago, I wrote about Kerry Starchuk and her courageous campaign to end the assault on whiteness in Richmond. Luckily for me, I have intelligent, well-written and […]

  4. Jack says:

    As a Francophone, I’ve yet (outside a bank machine) to be served in French in this province outside the strangely very French-speaking enclave of Granville Island. If I have to use English to surive in this province despite preferring the other official language, so should the Chinese. If one can take their driving exams through Chinese—how fair is that to an ethnic minority that doesn’t have such a luxury? If an Icelander fresh from Rejkjavik came into ICBC and stated that they wanted to take their licensing test in Icelandic, could they? ….Highly unlikely! I rest my case.

    • James says:

      Fair enough, Jack. By Canadian law, you have the right to receive government services in either English or French. This obviously includes such things as driver exams and so on. You can, I believe, take the learner’s exam in different languages, but for the most part, the road test is an English-only affair. You may have an advocate or an interpreter, but that’s about it (I believe; I don’t work for ICBC).

      BUT! We’re not talking about driver’s exams, or citizenship tests, or speeding ticket appeals. We’re not talking about government services at all. What we’re talking about are private businesses choosing to display their wares and services in languages other than English or French. We’re also, I should note, not talking about making new signs or anything. We’re talking about signs that already exist and therefore would require more work to take down and/or translate into English. We’re not talking about translating every sign and word into Chinese; we’re talking about translating Chinese signs into English ones.

      So, if I walk into the “Reykjavík Veitingahús” (a fictional place mind you) should I expect an English or French menu upon asking? (Maybe.) This is I think the larger point of the article: there are restaurants and establishments and businesses that advertise their services in languages other than English: Greek restaurants, Italian delis, German bars, and yes, Chinese restaurants. Kerry and company have chosen to single out just non-English signs in Richmond which, I should point out, are in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese to name a few, yet she takes no issue with places operating in various European languages. It is, in a word, racist.

  5. AlliG says:

    It comes down to one point: Is it legal to have signage in British Columbia that is completely in a language other than English?

    If the answer is “yes” and a business chooses to do its signage completely in another language, then the next question would be, why?

    As stated above, it is likely that the business wishes to appeal to people of a specific language group, whether because their products are generally only of interest to that group (although what that would be…) or because, as was said above, because staff are comfortable doing business only in that language.

    Either way, that is a business choice, not a legal one.

    Being surrounded by signs you can’t understand can be intimidating — but then it could be argued that it is just as uncomfortable (or more so!) to be surrounded by prices you can’t afford.

    I’m sure there are many people who avoid shopping in places like Holt Renfrew because they find the prices intimidating but I doubt any of them think Holt Renfrew should be obliged to change their prices to minimize that discomfort.

    And that is how it should be: Holt Renfrew is appealing to people with a certain level of disposable income. Clearly, these businesses in Richmond are appealing to people of a specific language group.

    Ms. Starchuk (really?) has many, many options for place to shop where she can feel completely at ease and comfortable, whether that is White Rock or Abbotsford.

    By the same token, I see nothing wrong with very wealthy people feeling at ease in high-end stores, or people who speak Cantonese being at ease in a shop which caters to their language.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s