- The final part the Building Bridges series takes a look at the varied Chinese ethnicities and how theyve settled differently into Richmond.
Under the surface of most contentious issues in life, theres rarely a simple black and white solution.
So when it comes to the heated debate over how much Chinese language should or should not be used on signs, its no surprise Richmonds Chinese community boasts more than one dimension.
A mere scratch on the veneer of the citys Asian faÃ§ade will reveal at least four ethnicities: Hong Kong; Taiwanese; South East Asian and mainland Chinese.
Each are endowed with a different heritage and each, when immigrating over the last few decades, bring to Richmonds table a mixed bag of languages, dialects, foods and traditions.
However, some, it appears, are more accepting of the English language than others, according to University of B.C.s Human Settlements (Community and Regional Planning) professor Aprodicio Laquian.
Laquian, a Philipino with Chinese ancestry who lived in mainland China for six years, described how migration from Asia tends to come in waves.
The oldest of these was in the 19th century from the mainland (China), he said.
More recently, Hong Kong experienced a rapid migration that led to many moving back to Hong Kong and there was also a big influx from Korea, before the latest one from mainland China.
The difference with the latest wave, said Laquian, is that the immigrants are much less exposed to English than people from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
This seems to be reflected in the many signs you see in Richmond, said Laquian, who emphasized his views are impressionistic in the absence of any detailed research into the subject.
People from mainland China take longer to adjust, according to Laquian, because, culturally, they are very different in many ways.
I have done a lot of studying on strata councils and housing management and they take a lot more time to come to terms with the rules and regulations in Canada.
Theyre very much used to a different government culture and they tend to stick together more and form smaller circles because of the language barrier.
They tend to look after themselves and distance themselves from government.
Richmond city councillor Chak Au, a strong advocate of racial harmony who immigrated from Hong Kong in 1988, was a professor at Hong Kongs Chinese University.
Au explained how its easier for certain Chinese ethnicities to slide into Canadian culture than others.
The people from Hong Kong carry a very British heritage and in the early days of them moving here, the language thing wasnt even an issue, because they were very sensitive to English and could communicate quite freely in English, said Au.
The Taiwanese have strong ties with the U.S., so, again, English is not too foreign.
And the South East Asian Chinese can often speak six or seven languages and are used to different dialogues and cultures.
Like Laquian, the issue, said Au, lies with the recent influx from mainland China; the demographic which has seen the biggest immigration flow over the last 10 years.
The mainland has had a closed door policy until the late 80s and early 90s, said Au.
People were seldom in contact with the outside world, but theyre the largest immigrant group to have arrived in Richmond in the last six or seven years, and I think this influx is a big reason why this issue has been magnified recently.
They are generally more nervous about outside contact, and they will need lots of encouragement to overcome that.
Au has also discovered more than 200 social groups from mainland China here in the city, but very few of them have any interaction with the non-Chinese community.
Im going to talk to a group of Muslim women that I know and Im going to try to get them to meet with one of those groups, a group of mainland Chinese women, he said.
Both groups are open to it and, again, its about building little bridges.
It could be a tiny step in the right direction, who knows where it might lead?