House-hunting as an Asian immigrant in Vancouver means navigating racism

Account how some of the general narratives about Chinese and Chinese Canadians play out at the individual level. Although stating that her car is a Porsche (no shame, she works hard, and a good reporter) perhaps a detail that reduces empathy:

When my mother graduated from high school in Hong Kong in the 1970s, she and her friends did not have the luxury of going straight to college or spending a “gap year” travelling the world.

At age 18, she worked as a secretary all day and attended class in the evenings to earn a degree in business administration, while also studying English and shorthand.

She made 500 HKD a month, which was roughly equivalent to $80 Canadian at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that would still be less than $500 Canadian a month. My dad was working long hours, meanwhile, as a salesman for commission.

In my parents’ first home as a married couple, they lived in a flimsy shack on the rooftop of a high-rise building, which they jokingly referred to as their penthouse. It was better than when they bunked with their parents and siblings, with both families stuffed into 200-square-feet studios.

They saved fastidiously. My mom socked away half her salary each month and invested the money. Since she was constantly upgrading her skills at night, she also jumped jobs to double and triple her salary. By the time I was born, she had a fairly comfortable government job and my dad had moved up the ranks to general sales manager.

Yet they gave it all up to start over again in their early 30s. After selling their apartment, my parents moved to Canada, in hopes of giving their children a more secure future in a democratic country.

I’m now the same age they were when they settled in Vancouver. Even though I haven’t been quite as disciplined, because I followed their example of jumping jobs and working multiple gigs at once, I’ve saved enough and I’m looking for a home of my own.

Searching for a condo in Vancouver as an Asian immigrant is a fraught and emotional experience. Why? Because there is a class struggle centred around housing affordability happening in the Lower Mainland — and it’s led to outright racism, ageism, classism and xenophobia.

If you chat with any Asian person in Vancouver, they’re likely to say they’ve noticed an uptick in racism, of people who voice their assumptions that they are recent migrants with bucketloads of cash and are driving up the real estate prices for “locals” and “real Canadians.”

Earlier this year, a stranger confronted and raged at me that my Porsche had almost struck her. I was dumbfounded. I commute an hour to work on public transit every day. Other times, people have simply shouted: “Chink!” at me, as I walked down the street.

At an apartment pre-sale event in Burnaby, I saw a one-bedroom that cost less than $450,000, and I couldn’t help blurting out, “Wow, that’s pretty cheap!”

It was a very crowded exhibition hall and immediately, everyone around shot dagger eyes at me and one white lady made a furious sound that sounded like “Eeuarrrckk!” then hissed under her breath, “Go back to China, bitch.”

And that’s just what I get as a young person. My parents are both boomers and immigrants, and even though they are so law-abiding they wouldn’t jaywalk, let alone engage in seedy real-estate fraud, they represent the most popular scapegoats for soaring real-estate prices in this city.

At best, it’s an unhealthy “us” versus “them” dynamic — at worst, it’s bigotry.

“I would never sell to a ‘housewife’ from China,” someone wrote to me in response to my first house-hunting story. The insinuation was that these people are undeserving of homes in Vancouver.

It makes me sad to see valid frustration about rising unaffordability lead to ugly attitudes toward people who are eager to become Canadians. My first job as a teenager was working as an English tutor, where I was mostly employed by “astronaut families.” Usually, it is the father who stays and works in the home country, planning to make money and join his family later, while his wife and children move abroad. The astronaut mothers that I knew were devoted to their kids’ educations, hiring multiple tutors and music teachers in ardent hope of helping them build bright futures in a new land.

Source: House-hunting as an Asian immigrant in Vancouver means navigating racism

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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