Annual festival presents an opportunity to celebrate our diversity

February 5, 2016

By Chuck Chiang, Vancouver Sun |

With the arrival of February, Metro Vancouverites will have undoubtedly noticed an uptick in the number of red lanterns, red envelopes and other harbingers of “good fortune” popping up throughout the community.

Yes, Lunar New Year is here once again, taking place this year on Feb. 8. And while the city’s Chinese-Canadian population has diversified and changed over the years, the festivities for the “Spring Festival” — as the holiday is often called in Chinese — remain a powerful uniting experience for those who grew up with the celebrations and the traditions that go with it.

The history of Chinese-Canadians date back more than a century, but the largest waves of immigration came in the decade leading up to 1997 (from Hong Kong and Taiwan) and in the last decade (primarily from Mainland China). As such, traditional overseas communities that tend to be Cantonese-speaking have started see increasing influence from Mandarin speakers — and Vancouver is no different. (StatsCan figures note that from 1991 to 1996, approximately 109,000 immigrants from Hong Kong arrived in Canada versus some 88,000 from Mainland China. From 2009 to 2014, however, the figure for Mainland Chinese immigrants reached 180,309, while those from Hong Kong fell to 3,959.)

One group that has seen the progression of Vancouver’s Chinese community has been SUCCESS, the non-profit immigrant-settlement organization launched in 1973 by a group of Cantonese-speaking Chinese-Canadians. As the demographics changed with the growth of Mandarin-speaking populations, the group is now focused on serving both communities, including new offices in China opened last year.

For SUCCESS CEO Queenie Choo, something like Lunar New Year — widely celebrated in all Chinese cultures, as well as several non-Chinese ones — is a great opportunity for these language communities and demographic groups to celebrate their differences and similarities in an open social setting like Canada.

“We all think about it, we believe in it, and we rekindle our spirits with our family and friends,” Choo said. “These are things that have been in our culture for a long, long time … No matter where (in Chinese cultural regions) you are from, this is what you practise.”

She added that, no matter what demographic differences exist, Chinese-Canadians old and new want to contribute to mainstream Canadian society more than anything else. It serves as a good uniting point, Choo said.

“Whether they are Hong Kong Chinese or Mainland Chinese, I think it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The important thing is that we become part of the Canadian fabric. We settled here; this is our country. We are proud of it, and we want to contribute.”

SUCCESS founder Maggie Ip and the late Lt.-Gov. David Lam are some of the most prominent examples of mainstream involvement by Chinese Canadians, and the increase visibility of the community has also meant Lunar New Year is evolving to become a uniting experience not just for Chinese-Canadians, but Canadians at-large.

Jun Ing, vice-president of the Chinese Benevolent Association in Vancouver, is the chief coordinator of this year’s Chinatown parade. Ing noted the unifying force that is Lunar New Year can be seen in the parade. A small event that started in 1974, it has now expanded to attract 100,000 people on average, coming from all walks of life.

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