Professor Yu offers his opinions about immigration and the Chinese community in Vancouver.
Mandarin, Cantonese top immigrant tongues
Metro Vancouver stands out as having a high concentration of Asian-language speakers
When Jun Xiao moved to Canada from Nanjing, China, he found himself welcomed into a warm and caring community. And it wasn’t in downtown Chinatown or the Asian-rich enclave of Richmond, but in an East Vancouver Christian Evangelical church.
Xiao, who arrived last year, is representative of several trends in Metro Vancouver: his language – Mandarin – along with Cantonese is the language most commonly spoken by immigrants to the region, followed by Punjabi, according to the latest census data released on Wednesday.
And while Xiao speaks English, his wife doesn’t, meaning he is also among a large number of Chinese immigrants who don’t speak either English or French at home.
The 2011 Census results suggest 24.5 per cent of the population of Metro Vancouver spoke an immigrant language most often at home.
Rene Houle, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada, noted Metro Vancouver stands out from the rest of Canada in that it has a high concentration of immigrants who speak Asian languages, including Korean and Tagalog – partly a result of Metro Vancouver’s proximity to the Asia-Pacific but also because of its established Asian communities.
But Henry Yu, an historian with the University of B.C., says China’s booming economy and the country’s demand for higher education is fuelling the influx of immigrants, who come from virtually every province in mainland China and settle across the region.
“Economically speaking, Vancouver is not a great place to make money. You finish a degree and you’re a barista at Starbucks,” Yu said. But “it is a good place to raise a family and have a fantastic education.”
The census now differentiates between the two main Chinese dialects, which are “as different as Italian and French,” Yu said. It suggests Mandarin is commonly spoken in Richmond and Burnaby, while Cantonese is used in Richmond and Vancouver.
Both are spoken at local churches, which frequently offer sermons in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and even Russian and Spanish.
“(Immigration has) created an incredibly rapid growth in Christian churches that are basically Chinese,” Yu said.
“The great irony is that in Canada up until the 1960s, a majority of people were church-going … now we’re seeing growth in churches, but it’s the new Canadians.
“The Chinese are creating strong communities that hearken back to the Canada of old. They embody more of Canada of the 1950s and before.”
The Roman Catholic archdiocese in Vancouver will produce some of the 1,700 TV ads it will broadcast this December in Mandarin and Cantonese, since 20 per cent of the city’s population is ethnic Chinese and many grew up in the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and elsewhere.
The trend has also changed the way social service organizations deal with new Canadians. Chris Friesen, director of settlement services of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., said over the past decade his organization has placed staff in churches, as well as mosques and Hindu temples, to offer settlement services.
“When it comes to new Canadians, organized religion tends to (offer) social and spiritual connections,” he said. “It means we had to take a look at how we deliver our services and where. You wouldn’t think of an immigration service agency placing their staff and having an office in a church. … It’s just another indication of when newcomers first arrive they’re using these communities as a social part of their networks.”
Justin Tse, a UBC grad student who is studying the phenomenon, said the church often provides newcomers with a sense of family and connectedness. One of his research subjects, for instance, told him that he often attends church, but usually falls asleep during the sermon and wakes up when it’s over.
“It’s a lot like going to your dad’s house,” he said. “There’s a strong sort of familial feeling.”
Xiao, a construction worker, said he was introduced to a church on Fraser Street by a friend, but isn’t a frequent member of the congregation. He and his wife are now expecting a new baby, which means he is too busy to attend often, but he did find some new friends and support.
“They are great. They have some very useful lectures that inspired me a lot,” said Xiao. “They send me emails and sometimes call me to see what’s going on. They take care of me.”
firstname.lastname@example.org with file from Douglas Todd