Richmond, Revisited

Vito Corleone, an early advocate of non-English signage in North America.

About 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 attractive friends willing to challenge my opinions, providing an excuse to follow up the previous article with this one.

Ziggystarduzt, of Tumblr fame, writes:

I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’ve said in the article, but tbh the whole signage thing bothers me to some degree, racist or not.

Like, I’m not about to get all up in arms about things and write letters to the Sun (and can I just say- let’s be honest.. if you’re going to write an editorial letter complaining about this particular subject matter, The readers of the Sun would indeed be the ideal right-wing audience to appeal to…) and I hate that it does sound racist- and it does- but it bugs me that Richmond has become so completely and exclusively accessible to the Asian community.

I completely appreciate the fact that it’s important to maintain your cultural connection, even moreso when you’ve moved to a new country with a new culture, and I can respect that. My issue is not at all with the Asian community maintaining their culture within Canada, it’s more with the level of exclusivity and alientation that it often accompanies.

What I mean is, when I go into a store or restaurant in Richmond, I should be able to receive service. I speak both of this country’s official languages fluently. it is, in fact, a requirement of citizenship, to be fluent in at least one of those languages. The reality is, you have chosen to move to a country that requires that fluency. By all means, hold on to your own culture and language… in fact, I think it’s really important that immigrants do so, as multiculturalism is an important and fantastic aspect of this country. However, by moving here, you are accepting the fact that it is your responsibility to learn our language and co-exist with Canadian citizens rather than simply recreating your own culture in a pocket.

In specific reference to controversy regarding signs and language… I’m French-Canadian. You know this… I speak fluent, flawless French. However the signage laws in Quebec drive me NUTS. I’m sure you’re aware, it’s legal in Quebec to have signage solely in French with no English translation- while in the rest of the country, the laws are very strictly bilingual. As far as I’m concerned, Canada has two official languages: French and English. BOTH should be printed on all public signs and products, in ALL areas of the country.

This is getting way too scattered and pointless…(I do not have your mad writing skillz with the staying on topic and formulating arguments in a concise and linear way :P) but tl;dr, don’t actively exclude people, kthx. This may be bordering on racist, but that is not my intent by any means. 🙂

To be terribly honest, I’m not sure whether the signs bother me or not. In North America, there’s a degree to which we really have embraced the Chinese culture as a big part of our “cultural tapestry,” as it were. And we should, because the Chinese population takes up one big-ass piece of the pie. Does this mean that our immigration laws should no longer apply? No, but here’s the thing: our immigration laws do apply to these communities and these communities are operating legally within them.

It is a requirement that the person applying for citizenship be fluent in either English or French. But this does not apply to the subsequent “Family Visas” which allow a newly-minted citizen to bring over a vast number of family members (Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, siblings, aunts and uncles) without these family members being required to apply for citizenship. And as residents, or legal Visa-holders, they are not required to learn English or French. Then, if these families move into communities that essentially operate like pockets of lil’China (or lil’ anything else), there isn’t much incentive to learn the two official languages if you can get by within your own cultural borough.

As for the signage, displaying Mandarin-only signs is legal (or, perhaps more accurately, not illegal) within the city of Richmond, for better or for worse. But as I said in the earlier article, “legal” and “moral” are often disparate concepts. What I took issue with, and this may not have been clear enough, was Kerry the Social Butterfly’s transparent attack on immigration being poorly disguised as an attack on signage. This is a woman who is being used as the figurehead for the Nazi-esque “Immigration Watch Canada,” which can be found on its own website and through Facebook.

IWC describes itself as “an organization of Canadians who believe that immigration has to serve the interests of its own citizens. It cannot be turned into a social assistance program for other countries. It should never be a social engineering experiment that is conducted on Canadians without the consent of Canadians.” I bet you all of their meetings look like the first 20 minutes of Gran Torino. As you can see, Kerry is quite the social butterfly, indeed.

"I'm here for the Immigration Watch Canada Meeting. I hope there's spinach dip."

Then there’s Kerry herself. The original newspaper article made it sound like Starchuk was a regular feature in her local newspaper’s letters to the editor section, but I was only able to find this one, and it is a gem:

Editor:

Richmond, a place I’ve called home for my entire life. It has been a wonderful place to live. I used to love it.

Unfortunately, devastating changes have made me feel like a tourist in my own city.

There’s a song  that resonates with me, “You are a Tourist,” by Death Cab for Cutie.

In all my 53 years here I’ve always been able to read the signs but not anymore. There seems to be a growing trend to advertise in Simple Chinese. This is on a storefronts, bulletin boards and vehicles quite often in 100 per cent Simple Chinese. I find this to be discriminating and offending.

As a community, I know we have people from all over the world who have called Richmond their home. These people have respected the Canadian culture and the local people.

I contacted city hall and they told me they have many inquiries about this subject. We desperately need some house rules. It’s time our municipal, provincial, federal elected officials legislate protection for our official English language.

Kerry Starchuk

Richmond

I honestly have no follow-up to that. It is beautiful, crystalized in its own insanity and lack of self-awareness.

Even worse was her January 16th on-air interview with CKNW at about 7:45 AM in which Starchuk said she said her biggest concern was that things were changing in Richmond and she felt excluded. She stuttered, sputtered and stalled her way through about 2 minutes of softballs like (paraphrasing): “What if you were a private business owner and chose to put up a sign in Greek? Would that be objectionable?” Kerry said she didn’t know how to answer the question. Because, of course, we know the answer is that Starchuk doesn’t have a problem with non-French and English signs, she has a problem with Chinese signs. And explaining, in real time, why you’re a racist can be difficult.

But again, by attacking signage, you are attacking the absolute last stage of this debate and issue. If we were having a serious, mature and responsible discussion about immigration law – a discussion I fear is next to impossible with people like KtSB – then issues like signage wouldn’t need to be addressed at all, as they would be covered by regulations on the need to learn a language or the suspension of Family Visas.

I don’t think these signs are necessarily Mandarin-only because the proprietors wish to keep English-speaking people out. I think that they are Mandarin-only because the proprietors themselves are incapable of communicating effectively enough in English to serve an Anglophone customer. And frankly, when was the last time that you or I stepped foot in the Crystal Mall or International Village or any Mandarin-only or at least Mandarin-leaning establishment in the Lower Mainland in general or Richmond in particular? I can understand a frustration with feeling that, as a bilingual speaker of both of the country’s official languages, there would be parts of your own province not accessible to you, but that’s been the story of North America since its very inception. Commercial Drive may be a Mecca for douchey hipsters now, but it was once (and to some extent still is) the Italian borough of Vancouver. The United States, and particularly New York, has been famous for its neighborhoods subdivided by nationality and, to a lesser extent, language and culture.

A promotional image for The Godfather 4: Generations

Here’s the problem with any immigration debate in North America: with the exception of full-blood First Nations people, we’re all immigrants. But people don’t really like to think of themselves that way – especially if they’re white. In the United States there’s this fantastic narrative about throwing off the chains of religious oppression and building a beautiful chapel on the hill which will act as a beacon of holiness for the rest of the world. To a less zealous extent, North Americans take pride in the advancements in ocean travel, trapping, fishing and other reaping of North America’s natural resources for the gain of England, the Netherlands, France and Spain. I think there were some people already in North America, but from what I can tell, the transition went smoothly.

That's exactly how it happened.

Of course, this proud image of the colonizer only applied if your ancestors were English, French, Spanish or Dutch. If they were Scottish, Irish, Italian, Polish, German, East Indian, Chinese, Japanese or basically anything else not English, French, Spanish or Dutch, your ancestors were filthy scum come to infect our beautiful new nation with their cultural exclusivity, confounding customs, incomprehensible language and/or inability to assimilate.

The beautiful tradition of North American immigration is the same today as it was in the 19th century.

So I have a hard time taking this debate seriously when I feel like it’s being spearheaded by people like Starchuk who are completely ignorant of their own immigration history.

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

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19 Comments on “Richmond, Revisited”

  1. Rob says:

    I find it funny that some scribbling on an awning scares Starchuk to pieces. You patronize restaurants and businesses by word of mouth anyways.

    Also I’ve been eating out all over richmond for five years. Nearly every business I can think of had a english business name next to the chinese one. Not only that, I can usually get SOMEONE who speaks enough english to get an order down.

    Have an open mind fer crissakes.

    This kind of diet racism is shameful

    • the beaver says:

      diet racism is a cute term but I think you’ve missed the point. In conclusion she write’s “It’s time to protect our official english language ” I take it you can agree with this point? For me it’s about language. Race (i hate that term because I’d like to think there is only race.. human) has no bearing on language acquisition. For example a child born and raised in BC to Chinese migrant parents will be able to speak fluent/native english. Essentially race has nothing to do with language but language is directly related to culture. So by using the word racism to describe a desire for a common language is incorrect. I don’t know if you live in Richmond and if a time comes when you walk into a restaurant with you’re big open mind and nobody speaks english and none of the menus or signs are in english and you have to pull out a chinese/english dictionary would that bother you? Is it far fetched? The fact of the matter is we need a common language. I’d even suggest reverting back to an aboriginal language as a common language, it might go a long way to resolving some of their greivences.

      • James says:

        The argument that the author has made is that the issue at hand is race and that K. Starchuk and others are pretending that it’s not.

        If the issue was language, then Starchuk, when asked about putting up a Greek sign, should have said she would be opposed to it. Luigi’s Ristorante should be Luigi’s Restaurant and The Greek Taverna should be The Greek Tavern, no?

        The issue then isn’t a “common” language but Starchuk’s distaste for Chinese signs — which is hilarious, because there are plenty of signs in Richmond in Japanese, Vietnamese, and Filipino — but it’s only the “Chinese” ones that really seem to bother Starchuk.

        And “language acquisition” is the term for the first language someone learns, not subsequent ones. Race does have some bearing because there are sounds that are unused in certain languages that are used in English. We “acquire” these sounds as children. There are certain sounds that are used in certain languages that I’ll never be able to make, and it applies to immigrants, too. Most immigrants will never acquire native fluency only because it is impossible after a certain language.

        And, well, changing signs is not going to change fluency. You talk about walking into a restaurant with Chinese signs and Chinese menus and no one speaking English — how is legislating that a sign must be in English going to change fluency?

        And I hate to take a cheap shot like this, but your writing is rife with spelling, syntax, and grammatical errors, so it is a little ironic you’re demanding everyone else write in English when you barely do so yourself.

      • the beaver says:

        If you think you’ve deliberately thrown a low blow then you know a bit a about boxing. When a boxer throws a deliberate low blow there are only three reasons for doing so.
        1. He thinks he can dupe the audience into thinking he’s not a cheat.
        2. He thinks he’s going to lose the match.
        3. He’s already lost.

        Do you feel so sorry that the author’s friends have pulled her down on the issue that you feel you need to throw low blows for her?

      • James says:

        Well, it wasn’t so much a low blow as it was kicking someone when they’re down.

      • the beaver says:

        Are you a slippery flip-flopper just as the author is?

  2. the beaver says:

    Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything on Kerry Starchuk on the ImmigrationWatch website nor the facebook, please send link. I was expecting a full page head shot of the demon. I think your right.. she is probably ill-equipped and doesn’t have the finesse to handle a discussion regarding immmigration reform. That’s why such a smart person as yourself should handle it. I suggest you help out at http://www.immigrationreform.ca/english/view.asp?x=1 it seems like such a civilized place. And being the fine journalist you are, you should also learn about Godwin’s law by following this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law. In a nutshell he suggests that, “There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”

    • Edited for clarification:

      “Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything on Kerry Starchuk on the Immigration Watch website or the Facebook page. Please send a link.

      I was expecting a full-page headshot of the demon. I think you’re right. She is probably ill-equipped, and doesn’t have the finesse necessary, to deal with a discussion regarding immigration reform. That’s why a smart person such as yourself should handle it. I suggest you help out at link. It seems like such a civilized place.

      And being the fine journalist that you are, you should also learn about Godwin’s Law by following this link link. In a nutshell, he suggests that, “there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread finished and whoever mentions the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”

      — The Beaver.

      Here is Godwin’s law, as per the ever-reliable Wikipedia:

      “Regarding Godwin’s Law, here is what the Wikipedia article states:
      Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies[1][2]) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] that has become an Internet adage.

      Godwin’s law does not claim to articulate a fallacy; it is instead framed as a memetic tool to reduce the incidence of inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons. “Although deliberately framed as if it were a law of nature or of mathematics, its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust,” Godwin has written.[12]”

      As I believe the aim of Immigration Watch Canada, both in its undeniable racism and in its desire to essentially “cleanse” Canada, the comparisons to Nazis are not anecdotal or hyperbolic – they are quite realistic and appropriate. Also, I did not refer to the members of Immigration Watch Canada as Nazis, but rather called the organization itself Nazi-esque. Godwin’s Law, being primarily anecdotal in and of itself, isn’t something someone can refer to as a “gotchya,” especially in this case where we are talking very specifically about racial discrimination on a national level.
      Regarding Kerry Starchuk’s precise involvement in Immigration Watch Canada, that will be difficult as they have both blocked me on Facebook (though they seem to periodically unblock me, so I don’t know if I am currently excluded from the page), but I did note that recently they have removed their list of members and administrators, so as you well know, it is quite difficult to state that anyone is associated with this organization. With that said, Kerry Starchuk (who has also blocked me) has it listed as one of the only groups she is a member of and the group has posted two articles about Kerry in the last week. Again, not conclusive evidence, but then any ability to provide conclusive evidence has been removed from their page.

      • the beaver says:

        No you would not be right. Again it just goes to show the incredible assumptions you have been making are incorrect. You assume that Kerry doesn’t know her anscestry nor Canadian immigration history. You assume she doesn’t know about the immigration reform policy change you seem to support . You assume she’s a racist because she wants to know what’s happening around her. You assume she’s going on to horrific things like shoving people in ovens and gas chambers just because she wants to speak to people around her and make friends and be included in the community around her. So I understand Godwin’s law and just as he did I wanted you to think about the Holocaust and rethink the hyper exaggerated comparison you made to Nazi’s. It was unwarranted and vulgar. Obviously you don’t see it as a hyperbolic comparison but because you’ve had a Rosetta Stone moment and you can see words other than which were actually used I don’t expect you you to back up.

      • Much like everything else in this debate, I think the problem here rests on your fundamental ignorance. Like your completely incomprehensible reference to the Rosetta stone. I am afraid I cannot continue as you seem to have completely lost the thread of logic and I honestly have no idea how to respond anymore.

      • the beaver says:

        That’s alright you’re to Tragically Hip for me any way. Sorry for the Canadianism 🙂

  3. the beaver says:

    I’d also like to present to a link to the following article that raised a few eye brows in Richmond amongst all Canadian residents and please tell me how you feel. http://www.richmondreview.com/opinion/letters/118685289.html. Could this be a matter of burning the boat (English) once you’ve crossed the river (Got into Canada as migrant or business person)?

    • the beaver says:

      oh and native canadians as you called them. If you believe in fact, not just your own opinions, walked across a land bring…. right up by the bering sea there. So in fact they were the first immigrants.

      • Are you insane? This is your argument? You really want to make this your argument?

        So if the Native people of Canada are really immigrants, what possible claim do English settlers have to this land?

        Okay, let’s say that the Native people of North America came here over the land bridge and that, prior to this migration, no one lived in North America. This means that technically the Natives should have assimilated into the animal culture.

        But wait — animals must have been immigrants, too. So they should have assimilated into the plant culture.

        Oh, but hang on — plants were immigrants! They stole this land from the water!

        Water stole this land from the land!

        Land stole this space from space!

        So technically we shouldn’t be speaking any language, but rather existing in an empty vaccuum of space.

        So I guess in the grand scheme of things, no one has any language rites in Canada as we shouldn’t be here at all.

      • James says:

        Also note that the Bering Land Bridge migration happened somewhere between 20,000 and 14,000 years ago. Christ was said to have been born 2012 years ago; the Roman Monarchy (not Republic, not Empire, the MONARCHY) began about 2765 years ago. The Sumer civilization began about 6512 years ago. This settling of America happened before civilization, so it seems a little weird to call them immigrants. One could go as far as to declare any peoples who settled outside of Mesopotamia immigrants, which reaches a point of absurdity that it’s almost painful. Add in the fact that immigration is kind of impossible when they aren’t moving to another country (and therefore is more like “migration”) and, well, there you have it.

        For a final point of hilarity, also recall where the Bering Land Bridge is. It’s in Asia. So the “first immigrants” to North America were Asian.

    • I really think you haven’t read my articles. I said nothing about my belief that Chinese immigrants desperately wanted to assimilate to our ways and become fully-fledged Canadians. I think I said pretty clearly that many of them move into these burroughs and set up lives because it’s easy. The fact still remains: if they are private business owners, they can advertise their business how and to whom they like.

      It is up to Canada to enforce stricter immigration laws if they want to prevent immigration tourism or immigration exclusivity, if the Canadian government feels that this is something that needs to be enforced.

      But again, Italians, Irish, Polish, Scottish… they were all seen as scum when they first moved here. Nothing’s changed.

      • the beaver says:

        You suggest that Canada needs to impose stricter restrictions on family visa holders to maintain a greater level of English proficiency. Correct?

        Do we have to keep the baggage of history for ever? We should definitely learn from history. We have learned the aboriginals despair that they’ve lost their culture and we have superimposed ours on theirs. Can we learn from that?

        The only way to unlock a culture is through language and if we want to learn about other cultures we’re going to need a common language everywhere. On signs, packaging, advertising, etc. That’s why I suggested an aboriginal language as a common language so we could address some of those issues and move on to a greater understanding. Nobody has to shed their language, we just need to be able to properly communicate in a common language, otherwise its borough mania forever.

        Then again, maybe being tribal beasts are what humans are meant to be. Do you think so?


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