<<indicates spoken in Cantonese
<<My name is FOONYAP>> and I am an artist and musician.
I was born and raised here in Calgary. My mom is from <<Hong Kong>> and my dad is from <<Malaysia>>. Chinatown was a central part of my youth. As a young girl, I would come with my dad to the Hakka association and while he would play mahjong, I would browse the library, looking at the pictures because I didn't know how to read Chinese. Later on, I learned Kung Fu with the Jing Wo Association, and one of my favourite memories is walking in the Calgary Stampede as the lion's bum (refers to lion dancing).
As I grew older I lost touch with my Chinese heritage, but now, as with many people of my generation, I now feel a pull to return to my roots. I would love to live and work in Chinatown, but I think the community needs to allow its identity to change.
Growing up, the message I received from my parents was that the outside world was a scary place and that I had a responsibility to work hard and not make a fuss. In this story, Chinatown was a "taste of home." But now things have changed. With the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a widespread recognition that working hard is not enough, especially if you look different from everyone else.
If we look at the history of Calgary's Chinatown, Chinese people had to live there, not because they wanted to, but because they weren't allowed to live anywhere else. When we think of Calgary, we think of the Calgary Stampede - but now we can publicly ask "Where are the Chinese cowboys if Chinese people have been immigrating here since the 1880s?" The answer is that Chinese people were not allowed to ranch or own farms even though they built the railway that white settlers used to come here.
I think people of my generation are ready to have difficult conversations because we can see how our parents have been affected, even though they might not want to talk about it.
It has become easier to talk about it since the pandemic, because now the racism is so obvious. I know I'm not alone in expressing that I felt unfairly victimized for being of Chinese descent, when reports of violence towards East Asians were reported in Vancouver or Montreal. However I'm grateful for the experience because it taught me two things:
1. It was a small taste of the discrimination that our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters feel.
2. It is dangerous to allow one's identity to be defined by a foreign global superpower. I think it is naive to assume that China's actions do not reflect upon the communities of Chinatowns across North America. But as an artist and musician, I have learned that the solution is to acknowledge one story, but to also share and tell my own. The door is now open for visible minorities to make a fuss and share our experiences.
From my point of view, it is as Calgarian and historically relevant to go to the Stampede as it is to go and experience Chinatown. So I pose these questions to you:
What story is Chinatown telling Calgarians?
Is this story serving the needs and interests of the community?
If not, what new stories need to be told?