Lunar New Year: Metro Vancouver couples reach across cultural lines

January 27, 2017

By Chuck Chiang, Vancouver Sun |

Until they were asked to describe it, Jennifer and Duncan Clark never thought of her family’s traditional Lunar New Year dinner as being an example of Metro Vancouver’s multicultural social fabric.

The annual family meal features Chinese-Canadians Jennifer and her father and older sister, Duncan (and occasionally his parents) of Scottish and other European descent, and the growing family of Jennifer’s sister, whose husband and five children are Muslims of Singaporean and East Indian heritage.

“We never think about it — but now, looking at the whole thing, we are pretty multicultural,” Jennifer laughed. “But that’s one of the things my dad has always done, to make sure that we celebrate the holiday together. We go out, because my dad does not cook and we don’t really know how to make too many Asian dishes. But we will always make a point of having the meal.”

Given Metro Vancouver’s changing demographics, the Lunar New Year — predominantly celebrated by Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and several other ethnic communities — has taken on more of a unique Vancouver/Canadian identity than ever before, thanks in part to the large number of cross-cultural marriages.

A 2014 Statistics Canada report said the Lower Mainland is home to the country’s highest concentration of mixed unions, comprising 9.6 per cent of the Metro region’s couples. In total, 51,375 out of 536,000 marriages/unions are between couples from different ethnic backgrounds.
Large numbers of people in the Lower Mainland are now celebrating Lunar New Year — as of the 2011 Census, 405,780 Metro residents come from these communities — with the traditional Asian celebration also growing through marriage.

“Even when we all hang out together, it’s doesn’t really feel like this shocking cultural experience,” Duncan Clark said. “It’s just family getting together. It’s also about communicating — some people can’t speak English quite as well, but you just find ways to do it.”

For the Clarks, the cultural gaps between their families were minimal. Duncan was born and raised in Maple Ridge, while Jennifer moved there with her father from Richmond, where she was born. The couple met in 2002 when they were both working at the same supermarket, and married three years ago.

During the decade-long courtship, Duncan — an environmental consultant for an energy project in Fort McMurray — said he could remember just one case of cultural views causing friction between himself and Jennifer’s father, centred around a practice commonly found in the West but still somewhat taboo in East Asia.

“The only thing he had said to me that he didn’t like was, well, I have all these tattoos, and when I first showed up with them, and he overheard that the tattoos were real — I guess he thought they were just drawn on — he said, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t like them? Cut off your skin?’” Duncan said. “And I was like, ‘Uh, I guess?’ But other than that, he’s just quiet and nice.”

Jennifer said that Vancouver’s large number of new immigrants from Asia have brought her closer to her cultural roots, which she has in turn brings home.

“I feel like I’m starting now to do a lot more. Because I am working in the manufacturing sector, my whole team is almost all from Asian backgrounds,” she said. “I feel like they are tying me back to my culture. … We have many friends who also married into different cultural backgrounds, but everyone’s born in Canada or represents what it means to a Canadian in Vancouver.”

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