When Céline Chuang sent us an earlier version of this text for our “Correspondents” open-access online series, we thought that it was impossible not to also publish it as part of this issue. Describing the grounded solidarity between the legitimate sovereigns of Turtle Island’s land and the “diasporic descendents of the displaced,” she invites us to read ourselves and our relation to the land through the meridians of Chinese traditional medicine.
On a day in February close to the Lunar New Year, I decide to walk to Chinatown. The rare sunlight tastes like spring and the snowdrops are nodding upwards from wet dirt. Over the course of the pandemic, I have been turning my attention to my non-human neighbors and their unhurried ways, and on the way, I notice the brimming tulip shoots, the red speckled branches still plump with winter’s berries. Here on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territory, the abundance of growing things and their attunement to non-linear time remind me of deeper definitions of place that underlay the city — the land’s memory, the land’s spirit. Indigenous knowledge keepers and matriarchs have taught me how relationship tending, ceremony, and marches disrupt the artificiality of cityscape borders and urban delineation, the mechanisms of spatial power.
Neoliberal zoning policies, anti-poor park infringements meant to police the spread of tent cities, these are overlays of dominance built on soft soil, on wisdom immemorial and undefeated. Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson speaks of Indigenous nationhood as “a web of connections, an ecology of intimacy”(“I Am Not a Nation State,” 2013). In the swelling we of the awakening — we, the racialized settlers, we, the diasporic descendents of the displaced — I’m learning to breathe to the beat of older loyalties.
As I approach Chinatown’s fraying edges, my breath stutters. Our Chinatown, like others, has felt the toll of Covid, even after the initial panic (and the spectre of yellow peril) receded in fervor. Under lockdown a year into the pandemic, the acts of collective support seen in early days — organized group dinners at Chinatown restaurants before the virus was widespread, solidarity walks like the ones planned by placemaker Jay Pitter in Toronto — are no longer possible. I prepare myself for the shuttered restaurants, the quiet sidewalks, the crushing throng of for-lease signage and shiny bougie storefronts, even as I feel my heart expand with the familiar scent of fish and herb and smoke, the swaying Lunar New Year lanterns, the sight of accidentally-sartorialist seniors in their multi-layered clothing, pushing grocery carts and wishing each other “Happy New Year.” Chinatown contains the multitudes of me, an English-speaking child of the Hakka-Hokkien diaspora; it is an off-highway haven, a hometown for those of us who dwell in the in-between spaces, or, in Kai Cheng Thom’s words, places called no homeland. Chinatown is a living temple where I’ve shared congee with Indigenous Elders and popos (grandmothers), a sacred site of intergenerational encounter, a gathering place where meridians converge. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), meridians are a vast network of pathways that encompass the mind, emotions, and spirit in an intercommunicating, interconnected whole through which qi (life force, animating breath, spirit) flows. Meridians map us through movement.