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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Driving Rules You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Rule 1 in action.

I have spent the last several weeks researching driving and looking up obscure rules. I pass these rules on to you, free of charge.

PARKING RULES:

RULE #1: IF YOU CAN FIT YOUR CAR IN, YOU CAN PARK THERE

A lot of people don’t understand quite exactly how parking works, and it’s basically like this: if your car can fit in the spot, you can park there. Fuck, it doesn’t even have to be a spot. It can be adjacent to one, you can be cutting through lines, whatever. If your car can fit in there, do it up.

RULE #2: IF THERE’S NO FIRE, THERE’S NO FIRE LANE

Fire lanes are awesome because they allow fire departments quick access to hydrants and such and allow them to put out fires in large buildings quickly. But did you know that if there is no fire, legally you’re permitted to park in a fire lane? Hand-to-God, it’s true. So the next time you can’t find a parking spot at Walmart, just pull up to the fire lane.

There’s an additional myth that you can only park here 1) if you leave the engine running and 2) someone remains in the vehicle. Both of these things are falsehoods. Just park and go. If you hear a fire alarm, you have about four minutes to get to your car before a fire truck shows up. So take your time!

RULE #3: HANDICAP PARKING SPOTS: FAIR GAME.

Handicap parking stalls are, believe it or not, unconstitutional. All men are created equal, which means that we all get the same access to parking stalls. Fact: rolling is easier than walking. Why should I have to walk across a parking lot when it is easier for someone in a chair to wheel across the lot? I shouldn’t.

DRIVING RULES:

RULE #4: STOP? STOP WHAT?

Stop signs are awesome because you can recognize them just about anywhere you go: they’re reddish and stuff. What’s key to remember though is that they’re entirely optional. As cyclist Randi Gurholt-Seary argued in Vancouver last year, traffic rules are for sissies. Stop signs only apply to people who want to stop, so don’t bother. Especially if no one else is in the intersection. But if you do decide to stop…

RULE #4A: STOP SIGN PROCEDURE

If you’re a dumb enough clown to stop at a stop sign, you’ve entered stop sign procedure hell. Everyone else has to stop because of you, so here’s what you do: if you’re the first one there, go on through. If you’re the only one going straight, just drive through.  If the other guy looks slow, go on through. And if you’re confused, just wave the other guys through until the place is clear, then go on through. Really easy, guys.

RULE #5: HALF-MAN, HALF-CAR: CYCLING RULES (GET IT?)

Noted hero Randi Gurholt-Seary holds up the traffic violation ticket Vancouver Police Department officers gave her for no good reason.

Bicycles are awesome because no rules of traffic apply to them? Why? Because they’re also pedestrians. So when you need to take the road, take the road. If you need to bypass traffic or a stop sign or a light or whatever, just hop up on the sidewalk. Make sure you have one of those bells so that if some dumb walker gets in your way you can beep at them. You’re a car, too, so don’t take shit from anyone. And if some cop decides to give you a ticket for rolling through a stop sign, quickly contact anyone who cares and fight it in the court of public opinion first. Why should bicycles get tickets when cyclists are singlehandedly saving the world from global warming? They shouldn’t.

RULE #6: TURN SIGNALS ARE POINTLESS.

There, I said it. By law, you don’t need to activate your turn signal ever. In fact, it marginally drains your car’s battery and is therefore bad for the environment. Why would you need to use a turn signal anyway? People can see where you’re going when you move there, so it shouldn’t be necessary to indicate you’re going to do so as well. That’d be like saying to people around you what you’re going to do before you do it. That’s stupid.

 

There you have it, folks. Seven rules that may one day save your life driving. Commit these to memory and make sure to print out a copy for your glovebox.

 


First as Tragedy… Then What?

After some conversations with folk online and off, I’ve had some time to think about MVRDV’s “The Cloud” project in Seoul, South Korea. I’d like to come at it with a certain angle, though, so I’ll start with this.

Since the end of World War II, Germans going through school are taught in almost excruciating detail about the Holocaust and Germany’s complicity in it. No one’s feelings are spared, and German students are reminded time and time again, not that “those Nazis” did this (in the way we, as non-Germans are taught that), but that “we” did this. The nation of Germany, which until 1871 wasn’t a nation in any true sense of the word (and after WW2 and until the fall of Berlin wall was again, a fractured nation), has taken full-on responsibility for the Holocaust and are properly commended for this. The victors write history, after all, and in the world’s history books, Germany was most certainly in the wrong.

But within the last generation or so, something interesting has begun to happen in Germany. German students are beginning to openly express frustration over what is still seen as their complicity in the Holocaust. Most superficial scholars of history paint all of Germany in one colour and as the nation that killed six million Jews and was lead blindly by Adolf Hitler in a mad bid to conquer the planet. Now imagine being a young German in Germany today: from a young age until the day you die, you’re constantly reminded of your nation’s shame and constantly told to carry that burden, even though you weren’t around in WW2 and your parents might have even been Holocaust victims themselves. Though my experience clearly pales in comparison to just about anyone else’s tale of discrimination, I have several times in my life been accused of being a Nazi or even Hitler himself on account of my German heritage. The accusation has nothing to do with fact, but it is still one made because of the actions of men long dead who I had nothing to do with.

So it is understandable that Germans want to move on. Every other year it seems there is either another Holocaust movie or a film that jokes about Germany and their complicity in that war. Whether it’s Schindler’s List, Inglorious Basterds, or even that Fawlty Tower’s sketch from so long ago, Germans are constantly reminded that even Oskar Schindler, who is the protagonist and ostensible hero of Schindler’s List, was still a German complicit in the Holocaust and despite what he did for the Jews, there’s always a notion that he could have done more or that he was just motivated by profit. To some extent, Germans deserve to carry the shame of WW2 (as Angela Merkel recently confessed in an address in Israel), and again, to Germany’s credit, they have done a damn fine job of rooting out anti-semitism and racism in Germany to the point that collecting Nazi memorabilia, a social faux pas but source of interest for many enthusiasts in the world, is illegal in Germany, many European countries, and even eBay. And while one could argue that to ban Nazi memorabilia is to pretend it doesn’t exist and to, in a sense, rewrite history, Germany at least deserves a ton of credit for the burden their youth have to carry for the sins of their grandfathers. And while poking fun at Germans for their complicity (and even poking fun at the Holocaust itself) has gotten a bit more in vogue in mainstream culture, for some it remains wildly inappropriate (and, well, fair enough).

I think another example that (perhaps) is closer to home is the subject of Native Americans and colonialism. It goes without saying that in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, etc), Europeans showed up to North America and began killing its inhabitants. I mean, to be frank the destruction caused by the colonization of North America was genocide, whether you’re talking about giving out smallpox-infested blankets or declaring war on them for encroaching on the land you stole from them. I would hate to be a Native American living in North America because of the systematic discrimination you face on a daily basis.”The white man”, to be non-PC, has been raping Native Americans since day one, and government policy to this day still discriminates against Native Americans.

But like young Germans in Germany today, at what point do we say, o”k, we’re sorry, now let’s move on”? I, personally, had nothing to do with the European conquest of North America, and I think very few of my readers did as well. The argument can be made that our presence is just a reminder of that, or we contribute to it daily, or whatever, but I don’t make my living or spend my spare time oppressing Native Americans — but every day, by virtue of my whiteness, I’m reminded of what we did to them. In British Columbia especially, every major public funding announcement or building construction (or even on occasion, university lecture), we begin with the almost cursory declaration that “we acknowledge that we are on Unceded Coast Salish territory“. It is necessary, in BC, for us to begin by acknowledging that the only reason we’re standing where we’re standing is because we stole the ground we’re standing on. It can go beyond that. Take for example the recent Missing Women’s Inquiry here in BC, which was an investigation into why police forces didn’t do more to investigate the disappearance of women, the majority of whom were street people and/or native. The thing began with a prayer from a first nations elder. Sure, it is somewhat appropriate maybe, but they likely would have caught hell if they prayed to Allah or Christ. One just has to Google “unceded coast salish territory” to be bombarded with public shamings, ranging from press releases that begin with “VANCOUVER, Unceded Coast Salish Territory” or speeches from the government recognizing that this bridge/bank/park/convention centre/whatever is on unceded Coast Salish territory. It manifests itself in crazy ways, such as renaming the Queen Charlotte Islands (named after a boat named after Queen Charlotte) the Haida Gwaii or the recent proposal to rename Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC (named after the same Stanley for which the Stanley Cup is named) to Xwayxway. To me, the constant platitudes we lob towards Natives (as though renaming a bunch of islands people fish off of to Haida Gwaii is going to undo centuries of oppression) is insulting to both parties. At some point, whether we’re talking about The Crusades or the Crucifixion of Christ or Japanese internment camps in WW2 or genocide in Germany and in North America or Pearl Harbour or, well, 9/11, eventually we have to forgive and move on, maybe.

My point with “The Cloud” thing was several-fold: firstly, what you see is what you see. Everyone sees something different when they look at the world. Perception is inherently flawed, and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As a mundane example, I have major astigmatism in my left eye and minor in my right. While I can function just fine without glasses, the world does appear to me a bit different without glasses or contacts. You can look at an ink blot and see a man with a knife or look at a cloud and see a bunny: that’s perception. And, when it comes to perception, you can’t be told you’re wrong to some extent. What you see is what you see. If you see a ghost, you might be crazy or you may need to make a phone call, but the undebatable fact is that you saw x. If you look at The Cloud and see the World Trade Centre towers engulfed in flame, that is what you see. That may not be what the designers intended, but that’s what you saw. Language obviously has a huge role in what you see: had I (or anyone else) just posted the picture sans words, you may not have “seen 9/11”. As it stands, I introduced the buildings as having that appearance. It’s like lawyer-speak: the difference between did you see that car? and did you see that blue car run that red light? are two very similar yet very different questions that, by the nature of their formation, imprint information into the mind of the person receiving the question.

My second point was, isn’t it interesting that North Americans instantly see 9/11 in these buildings? I am sure that people from Norway or Spain or Australia or China or South Korea or Zimbabwe or England would be more likely to see something different. As it stands, I think it would be very interesting to take the picture and present it to various people of various ethnicities, living in various jurisdictions, and asking them what they see, because I guarantee you, people from different regions are likely to see different things. My girlfriend (an American) instantly saw the WTC buildings. As a Canadian, I did not instantly see them but after I read an opinion piece saying that’s what they look like (and S. Korea et al were being insensitive, etc), I saw it. And I think by virtue of the fact that 9/11 is a bigger deal in America than it is in Canada (though many in Canada still recognize 9/11 with a moment of silence), and obviously a bigger deal in America than it is in South Korea or Iran or North Korea or Taiwan or the Ukraine,  Americans are more likely to see 9/11 than any other nationality. Again, I don’t have any scientific evidence, but to suggest otherwise is to argue that nationality has nothing to do with one’s perception, which seems easily debatable.

Thirdly and finally, and this is why I opened with a thousand or so words talking about tragedy and it’s evolution, at what point can we, as a society, move on? Let’s assume that x% of Americans, when seeing the picture up top, “see 9/11”. In ten years, will that percentage go up and down? In twenty, thiry, forty — when will people not see 9/11? Three weeks after 9/11, Gilbert Gottfried famously complained that he attempted to catch a flight but couldn’t get a direct flight because “they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” He was heckled, and though he won back the crowd, took a lot of flack for his joke. Holocaust jokes, Nazi jokes, Native jokes, and jokes about 9/11 are OK in some circles, but obviously not in others. I ended on “Too soon?”, if only because, well, when isn’t it too soon?