“OMG there are so many Asians at Uoft”
‘I swear Vancouver is a part of China”
“When did Canada become a Chinese colony”
“Bare China gyaltings reaching faam”
If you go to any major Canadian university or live in and around Vancouver or Toronto, you have likely heard phrases such as these being thrown around on a consistent basis. The often-not-so-clever quips about Canada’s growing East Asian demographic (Now 13% of Canada’s total population) have at this point been done to death by virtually every metropolitan resident over the past decade.
However, this growing phenomenon goes beyond perpetual comedic subject matter and often relates to issues of rising housing prices, racism (yes, even in our supposedly “perfect” multicultural mosaic), and ironically the loss of historic Chinese-Canadian cultural heritage.
How real is this phenomenon?
Well firstly it has to be said that when folks refer to the growing tide of Asian and specifically Chinese migration in Canada, they are referring to an almost exclusively Toronto/Vancouver phenomenon. Now, this trend extends beyond the traditionally high proportion of ethnic Asians in post-secondary institutions and in Vancouver alone about half the population can trace its origins back to East Asia.
In Richmond, a city of 200,000 in the greater Vancouver area, recent spikes in mainland Chinese migration has helped create the first majority Chinese city outside Asia
On a smaller but no less significant scale, areas in the Greater Toronto area such as North York, Markham, and Richmond Hill have seen similar recent spikes in Chinese migration that have completely changed the make-up of traditionally white suburbs.
In many ways, this new trend should not be all that unique. Canada is home to massive immigrant communities from India, the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and others and has been for the last half-decade.
Chinese immigration in itself is hardly a new phenomenon with its origins tracing back as far as the 19th century when they first arrived as migrant railroad workers. Until very recently, Vancouver has even been referred to as ‘Little Hong Kong” or “Little Canton” due to its historic reputation as a hub for Cantonese migrants.
Wealth of current Chinese migrants the issue at hand
The massive shift has been the type of the new migrants now arriving from the middle kingdom. For most of Canada’s immigration history, migrants from Asia have by and large been exceedingly poor and have often come to Canada with little to no financial assets. The vast majority of these newcomers are incredibly wealthy and purchase houses and condos that drive up urban property values.
Until recently, there was a Canadian visa program that welcomed foreigners with a net worth of upwards of $1,600,000. The timing of this visa program coincidently occurred during China’s intense economic rise of the 21st century. The Globe and Mail used the term “white flight” to describe this growing trend in Vancouver’s suburbs but in reality, it seems as if the local white population has been priced out of the housing market. The local Vancouver buyer with a yearly income of $83,000 is now forced to compete with foreign Chinese investors with million-dollar bank accounts.
Much of the anti-Chinese sentiment stems from this newfound housing crisis. Vancouver was recently voted the 3rd least affordable city to live in on the face of the earth. Among such housing crises and growing homelessness, these young Chinese residents often flaunt their wealth with expensive cars and brand name clothes. Many well-meaning activists will attribute this growing resentment to a form of anti-Chinese racism and the white man’s irrational reaction to oriental wealth (not a specific source for this one, a bit of my own speculation and a combination of things other sources said-not a part of article, just because u wrote link here explaining further). While this may very well play a role, it is not the main issue at play.
New migrants ironically lead to the decay of Chinese cultural landmarks
Even the original ethnic Chinese populations of Vancouver and Toronto are often just as (if not more) frustrated with these new migrants. Chinatown, a staple of downtown Vancouver, is slowly deteriorating as businesses can no longer afford to pay their rent. Iconic Chinese cultural landmarks are slowly being edged out, ironically due to the influx of these migrants from the mainland.
In an SBS Dateline documentary on this changing urban dynamic in Vancouver, Danny Quon, a 2nd generation immigrant of Cantonese descent laments the loss of his favourite spots in Chinatown and worries about the probable eradication of his favourite Chinese athletic club, Hon Hsing. These old relics of Vancouver’s past likely won’t be able to survive amongst the midst of skyrocketing rent costs. Coupled with the rise in property values, the newcomers from China do not feel any affiliation with the Chinese culture that Danny Quon and his generation of immigrants associate with. As Quon states, they seemed concerned primarily with “the trappings of wealth” and is saddened by their lack of interest with their own culture. This generational gap represents the vast cultural disconnect within the Chinese community in Vancouver.
As a result, the traditional Hong Konger appears to be leaving Vancouver almost as quickly as the wealthy mainlanders are entering. As journalist Ian Young stated, “this is not an issue about race, this an issue about wealth”. The money being used to buy these properties and live these lavish lifestyles has not been earned domestically and therefore leads inherently to the current inflation we see now.
Millionaire migrants make a name for themselves in Canadian pop culture
Despite this growing resentment, these Richie rich kids are often celebrated in Canadian pop culture. This rich Chinese lifestyle has been the subject of numerous memes and the Vancouver based TV series “Ultra Rich Asians”. There is some irritation but also a deep fascination with these new migrants and their youthful wealth-induced swagger. Whether the decisions the government took were right or not, these migrants and their seemingly limitless pockets are here to stay.
As Crazy Rich Asians hits theatres this week and millions flock to see a portrayal of the excesses of Asian wealth, one can’t help but wonder the role these migrants will play in future Canadian societies. Only time will tell what this so-called ‘Asian Invasion’ will entail.