Editor's column: Richmond needs more Henrys

If you live or work in Richmond long enough, you’ll hear it many, many times.

The all too often utterances of how “more bridges need to be built” across cultures in the city and we need to be a “more inclusive” society.

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The latter of which is my personal favourite and one which comes with stunning regularity, as predictable as the snow geese camping on our school playing fields and the cherry blossoms blooming at Garry Point Park.

What is rare, however, is someone taking ownership of the cultural catchphrases and actually putting their words into action for the good of the community they call home.

Next week, our city will lose one such person — at least in an official capacity — when Henry Beh retires after 29 years of leading the Richmond Chinese Community Society (RCCS).

For almost three decades, Beh and his small team at RCCS have quietly, but assuredly, worked away in the background in Richmond, helping mainly Chinese immigrants settle into their new lives in Canada through advice, advocacy and social programming.

But what they’ve also been doing is educating each and every single one of their 1,000 plus-strong membership to learn as much about the local and Canadian culture as possible, as well as respecting and learning English whenever possible.

In his final interview as the RCCS’ executive director (page 12), Beh stuck his neck out a little, indicating that the more recent wave of immigrants from mainland China are not making as much of an effort to integrate into mainstream life in Canada as much as, perhaps, his generation did.

When a person not of Chinese ethnicity says such a thing, it’s usually dismissed as jealousy, fear and, ultimately, racism.

When Malaysian-raised, Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking Beh says it, maybe it’s time to take notice.

As an immigrant myself of more than 10 years, I, too, have had to make some changes to integrate into the society which I now call home.

Granted, coming from Scotland, there weren’t many visible or audible barriers, such as language — although some colleagues and soccer teammates over the years may beg to differ on the latter.

Although speaking English, there were significant cultural adjustments I had to make — and was quite happy and willing to do so — to “fit in” with my new neighbours, social circle and work environment.

I learned very quickly, for example, to be more discerning about the timing of cracking jokes in the office and when to say it to myself first, realizing that my Canadian workplace was a little more sensitive than the UK.

Suffice to say, when immigrating to a new country with a markedly different culture, I felt I had a duty to, at the very least, recognize the differences, respect them and put them ahead of my own preferences.

Henry Beh was different and the more of his ilk that rise to the top, the better Richmond will be — for everyone.

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