Opinion | A victory for Vancouver - A repudiation of its racist past
By Philip Yeung, university teacher
It has been a long wait—135 years to be exact, from the dark days when Chinese immigrants had to pay a shameful Head Tax to enter and work in Canada.
Finally, political awakening has electrified Chinese Vancouverites. For the first time, the long lines of Chinese seniors at the Chinatown voting station turned into a tidal wave of electoral power that has swept Ken Sim into office as the first Chinese mayor of the city. Gone is the curse of their cold indifference to politics, thanks to a surge in anti-Asian hate crime, skyrocketing street violence, and unprovoked stabbings. Suddenly, they realize that being politically passive is a ticket to permanent second-class citizenship.
In world cities like London, New York or San Francisco, Chinatowns are throbbing hubs of commercial activity and iconic tourist hotspots. Not so in Vancouver. Despite its long history, it gets little respect and attention from the local politicians. This prime parcel of real estate, next to the Central Business District, has been colonized by drug users, and has gone to seed as a garbage dump of human despair, littered with sidewalk squatters who have given up on life. Any suggestion to relocate them to a remote area or treatment center is brushed aside with a stern lecture on discriminating against the down and out, and that drug addicts have rights too. This has become the stand-by excuse to do nothing. Chinatown has gone into decrepitude for decades.
But this "humanistic" argument is flawed. For one thing, according to Kant, the German philosopher, it is not "universalizable", in that it can't be applied to all communities. If you believe that moving these self-abusers out of Chinatown is cruel, how come no other neighborhood has offered to take them in? Why is Chinatown eternally saddled with a problem not of its own making, a problem no white community would touch with a ten-foot pole?
These high-minded people have never spared a thought for Chinese seniors who are too frightened to leave their homes because of random attacks by the dregs of society. Tourists, too, are too scared to venture into this culturally quaint neighborhood. They forget that Chinatown residents, workers, business operators and property owners have rights too.
Nurses, clinic receptionists or salesladies have to endure the daily risk of being accosted by dangerous-looking addicts when they pick up their cars at the multi-story public parking, and pregnant Chinese women are terrified by aggressive human scarecrows. When darkness falls, Chinatown is just a frightening ghost-town. No one should have to live like that in beautiful British Columbia!
Nor has anyone counted the human cost of abandoning Chinatown to drug users whose rights are considered absolute, without being balanced against those who lead healthy, productive lives.
The result is that the basic rights of hardworking Chinese residents are sacrificed to appease and accommodate life's absentees. Self-righteous do-gooders who talk the loudest are the most reluctant to adopt drug addicts as neighbors. If they shut their door on these social rejects, they should shut their mouth as well.
I hate to say this. I suspect that relegating Chinatown to a drug addicts colony is an ugly act of racism. The Chinese are easy prey because they are politically inactive and disorganized, and too timid to fight for their rights. They are trapped into a voiceless existence until Ken Smith comes to the rescue.
While the late David Lam was appointed Lieutenant Governor of BC, and another Hong Kong Chinese Adriane Clarkson was anointed Governor General of Canada, their ceremonial posts are largely political window-dressing. Political apathy has consigned Chinese-Canadians to a century and a half of shadowy existence.
Across the Atlantic, Rishi Sunak of Indian descent has just become British Prime Minister. It's time for the Chinese diaspora to wake up. Power won't be handed to you on a silver platter. It takes political assertiveness and activism. Electing the first Chinese mayor in Vancouver is the first step in closing an ugly racist chapter in its history.
If Chinatown becomes addicts-free, it will be rejuvenated as a tourist magnet, just like San Francisco or Toronto, with a cascade of jobs and economic opportunities from the hospitality industry.
Politicians have run out of excuses for sentencing Chinatown dwellers to a changeless rodent-infested and crime-ridden neighborhood.
This is a watershed moment in Vancouver's history. But why stop there? Why not a provincial premier or even a Canadian prime minister with Chinese blood in his veins?
But Mr. Sim has a mountain to climb. Clearing away century-old social debris takes collective courage and muscle. He needs all-out help from fellow Chinese-Canadians to return a reborn Chinatown to the long-suffering Chinese residents. If he cosmetically and commercially transforms the enclave, he has done what no white politician has ever done before. He will be a hero in history.
Stoicism and political apathy belong to Chinese culture of the 19th century. In the West, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. The politically inactive is doomed to inhabit the foul-smelling margins of society.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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