Young generation fuels Chinatown’s future

The past and present of Chinatown


Slider images: Photos of Chinatown from the City of Vancouver Archives matched with photos of the locations today.
Top (left to right). Former Ming’s is today’s Fortune Sound Club, CIBC building on Main Street, East Pender and Columbia Street looking west.
Bottom (left to right). The East Hotel on Gore, buildings on East Pender and Columbia Street facing north, Foo’s Ho Ho on East Pender.

When she was young, Claudia Li’s grandmother would bring her to Chinatown on her trips to buy groceries. She was amazed by the number of people her grandmother knew, calling out to passersby and shop owners by name.

Today, Li helps organize a team of young Chinese-Canadians determined to protect Chinatown’s unique and intimate community. Individually, they have led Cantonese workshops for non-Chinese, organized sporting events from street hockey to kung fu, assisted seniors with computer work and have helped what determine what constitutes as Chinatown character at city planning workshops.

Megan Lau and Kevin Huang of Hua Foundation, whose Chinatown office is where young adults involved in the neighbourhood have been meeting.

Megan Lau and Kevin Huang of Hua Foundation, whose Chinatown office is where young adults involved in the neighbourhood have been meeting.

[fve][/fve] Watch King-mong Chan of the Carnegie Community Action Project say how working in Chinatown has helped him connect more with history and language. He helped organize the call for a temporary moratorium on Chinatown development.
“We’re at a turning point where it can go either way,” said Lee.

A history of activism

It’s more than Chinatown’s identity that’s stirring youth interest today. Youth are exploring their own identity as Chinese-Canadians through their work in the neighbourhood. However, they’re not the first ones to do so.

Fred Mah, a Chinatown advocate with over half a century of volunteerism in the neighbourhood, remembers the ‘60s and ‘70s when youth involvement was the strongest. Sports like badminton, basketball, table tennis and volleyball were the gateway to more interest in Chinatown.

[fve][/fve] Watch June Chow say why she’s helping out in her late grandmother’s association. Chow’s grandparents brought her to massive banquets with the Hoy Ping Benevolent Association, the Vancouver community of immigrants from Hoy Ping county in China.
Most of the new youth group are in their 20s, but the term “youth” is used loosely to refer to anyone who has grown up in Canada.

“In Chinatown, youth means anyone under fifty,” said Edmund Ma, one of the group’s organizers.


Watch Chanel Ly say how her parents met in Chinatown, where her father worked at a meat shop. Ly works as an SRO tenant advocate and supports Chinese seniors with housing and health needs. She realized having amenities within walking distance is crucial to seniors.

Collaborations and conversations


Watch Kathryn Lennon perform “This Daughter’s Tongue”, her poem on learning her ancestral languages. Lennon brings ideas from Edmonton’s Chinatown, where she worked with a team of diverse ages to plan events. She writes poetry and often uses it to explore Canadian diversity and her heritage as Irish-Cantonese. She also helped plan a Cantonese workshop for English speakers at Centre A last May, where she is a director.

[fve][/fve] Watch Kathryn Lennon perform “Dragons Might Have Been Here”, her poem on the Chinese building the CPR.

Fred commends the younger generation for being patient with the process. He said, “If you work alongside [the other associations] and accept some of their ideas, then they will gradually accept you.”


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