Media Talkback | Chinese-only signs aren’t good for Canada?

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Esther Frid holds "El Atardecer de la Vida," a book she wrote about the stories of seven senior Latin American women living in Canada

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There’s a provocative op-ed by Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd published today called Why Chinese-only signs aren’t good for Canada. Here’s the lede and nut graph of the piece:

A Richmond woman has been getting the bureaucratic brush-off in her efforts to restrict the pre-dominance of Chinese-language signs in her hometown.

Despite Richmond officials acknowledging that many residents are upset by the large Chinese-only signs being erected in the city, Kerry Starchuk has been consistently stonewalled in her campaign, which consists of letters to the editor and buttonholing politicians.

But there are many reasons to support Starchuk’s mission to have the 200,000-resident suburb bring in bylaws that favour English-language signs over foreign-language ones.

There are a few issues I have with the main arguments Todd makes in this article.

First, Richmond is not really an enclave. There are no real or invisible barriers that keep people in or out. And I don’t think Richmond is economically disadvantaged. The article in the Sun is intentionally controversial (as many articles about diversity are), but not well-thought out.

It makes a big argument about the impact on culture, but the argument is pointed in the wrong direction. There’s a basic reason signs are in Chinese: economics. It’s part of the marketing. It drives the Chinese-speaking consumers to the malls. It has nothing to do with multiculturalism, or cultural cohesion. It’s about money. In fact, it was this money that has driven Richmond economy. The other thing that the article seems completely ignorant of is the fact that Chinese is not a “minority language” in Richmond.

Second, one might argue the signage is a reflection of the languages spoken in that part of the city. If there were a competition between multiculturalism and democracy, I’d like to think democracy wins. Absolutely, we need a common language to foster social cohesion. But more importantly, we need common values. Regardless of language. English-speakers with profoundly different social values (ie. the environment, Downtown Eastside, diversity, homelessness) make social cohesion difficult.

Lastly, the article pretends that Richmond and people that live in Richmond don’t have a deep connection to Asia. Their connection to Asia is likely much deeper than to Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto perhaps. It doesn’t make sense to compare the kind of experience and expectations of the other coast to what’s happening here. Perhaps that connection makes some people nervous. Perhaps it threatens old ideas of Canada. But it’s these connections we’re counting on to pull us out of the recession. Rhetoric aside (and the article is all 1970s multiculticultural rhetoric) in the end, cities around the world are trying to court Chinese investors, immigrants, and consumers—Richmond was just at it before anyone else.

The signage in Chinese are the signs (excuse the pun) of this.

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