A lot has been already written on the violent forms of gentrification Vancouver is currently experiencing. In this text, however, Céline Chuang frames the struggle for Chinatown’s survival in an anti-colonial framework that involves tribute to and solidarity with the Indigenous’ fight for sovereignty.
Article published in The Funambulist 31 (September-October 2020) Politics of Food. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
Arriving at the drop-in center brings the familiar scent of sage smoke from the early morning smudge. As we ladle eggs on the breakfast line, an Indigenous coworker tells me she is seeing a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, because it’s the closest thing she can find to the traditional medicine of her culture. It’s a fitting conflux where the Downtown Eastside overlaps Chinatown, and displaced Native folks from across what is called Canada hail greetings to one another as bottle-picking po-pos (Chinese senior women) push carts across potholed streets. The settler colony’s poorest urban postal code refuses categorization and subjugation, and although varying degrees of marginalization can intersect to form fissures — state-enforced scarcity breeds contempt among the injured — bridges and connective tissues too emerge, flexing muscle memory in the ongoing struggle against rampant gentrification.
Postmemory, which Marianne Hirsch defines as being mediated through imaginative creation rather than recollection, roots the struggle of the East Asian diaspora to protect Chinatown(s): exercised out of honor for our adopted ancestors, the working-class elders who labored in fish factories and on railroads, and in a context of solidarity with Indigenous communities against the multiple displacement of gentrification within a settler-colonial state. As Natalie Knight points out, the colonial front lines are everywhere; the city is where urban Indigenous sovereignty struggles manifest, and East Asian solidarity means grounding our work in recognition and alignment. At a public hearing discussing a new condominium at 105 Keefer Street, a patchwork coalition mobilized by outrage denounces the development: urban Native land defenders, neighborhood po-pos who lecture the mayor in Cantonese and Mandarin, a wide swath of us from the East Asian diaspora to whom Chinatown is a sacred space, a fragile ecosystem of intergenerational relationships, cultural nourishment, and invaluable sustenance for the community. Speaker after speaker begins by naming the true owners of the land, the Musqueam, the Squamish, and the Tsleil-Waututh, connecting the dots between colonial theft and the displacement of the poor and racialized who call Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside home.