Isolationism: Language and Capital

My friend, Neil Remington Abramson, commented in relation to my concerns about the huge “Bank of Toronto” signage in Montreal forming part of the top of the historic bank building at Guy and Ste-Catherine, which now houses the successor TD Canada Trust. In his comment, Neil compared the situation in British Columbia, where people are supposedly not bothered by unilingual Chinese commercial signage, even though such signage is directed to a minority of the commercial population. From my own preliminary research, I wasn’t convinced that things were as harmonious as described by Neil.

On September 30, 2011, Neil commented as follows (reproduced with permission):

People had that negative attitude all the 20 years I have been here. Earlier, it was the complaint the Chinese were buying up all the nice houses in Vancouver, but I discounted it since it was coming from the sellers “forced” to move to the outskirts. If you sell to a Chinese for a big profit, then I think you are disqualified from complaining that they were Chinese. You didn’t have to sell. So its “greed” vs prejudice, but greed won.

Then there were the complaints the Chinese were building “monster”-size houses, but of course: (1) they weren’t bigger than zoning allowed; and (2) in my old neighbourhood, British Properties, Caucasians were free to build big houses. So that one passed too.

Then there were the complaints the Chinese were putting bright red roofs on their houses which disturbed the bland dull regularity of the neighbourhoods. We had a Chinese palace down the street from us with huge size, red roof, stone lions at the black steel gate, gold stuff hung off the gate and visible front door, and elaborate stone columns holding up the front foyer. They tried to sell it this year for $6-7 million and there were no takers all summer. We thought it rather grotesque, and a bit of a laugh, but it never occurred to us it should be banned. It was just down the street from Jim Pattison’s house, where he has the world’s “largest” display of Christmas lights every Dec 1 to 31. I doubt if anyone complains about his displays and if they did, so what?

Sure, the Chinese are “isolationist” too. I had a marketing student hired by the Yaohan Mall (or the Aberdeen Mall, across the street) in Richmond (both big Chinese Malls). They wanted to find out how to attract Caucasians to their malls. The student recommended bilingual signs in English, as well as Chinese. The mall people apparently never thought of that.

But some of the “isolationism” is likely because of the reactions of the Caucasians. Rosalie Tung, famous international business prof, told me when her husband graduated from UBC as an architect in the 60s, he was not allowed to practice in Vancouver because he was Chinese. So they moved to Boston. Now he is allowed, of course. And in my old neighbourhood, British Properties, there was a legal clause governing the purchase of property: that you couldn’t, if you were not of British origin. That was legally knocked down years ago, which is just as well, since much of the neighbourhood is now owned by Iranians and, more lately, Chinese. When we sold in the spring, we got 4 offers from Chinese, and 1 Iranian. We were very pleased. It sold over list.

My point about Vancouver is not that there is no cultural/racial silliness, but that we feel no need to legislate against people based on “race”, culture, or language, unlike Quebec. Our identity is more truly multicultural, and not because we are forced by law, but because people are more and more comfortable with it. Polls show comfort is greater, the younger people are. You know, Vancouver has the highest percentage of multiracial marriages in Canada, along with Toronto, which says to me that lots of people are cool with these trends. My wife Haruyo is Japanese. My first wife was British (and I am glad we are divorced, though I don’t recommend divorce as a lifestyle).

I am Anglophone. I am by ancestry half British/Scottish, and half north German. But if Anglophone culture, such as it is, fades into polyglot multicultural, it will not bother me. Multicultural is much more interesting. If the English language fades into just one of several, as it has in Richmond already, its not a problem. My friends speak English and I know where to go to be in Angloland.

I personally think we in Vancouver (and Toronto) have mostly become what multiculturalism was intended to produce.

About brucelarochelle
This entry was posted in British Columbia, French-English, Montreal Reflections, Multiculturalism, Uncategorized, Vancouver. Bookmark the permalink.

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