Chinese-Canadians celebrate their history in Vancouver, B.C.’s Chinatown

A new exhibit at Vancouver's Chinatown Storytelling Centre looks at youth culture in the neighbourhood. Angela Bower speaks to the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation about why it’s important to tell the stories of Chinese-Canadians.

By Angela Bower and James Paracy

A new exhibit at Vancouver’s Chinatown Storytelling Centre looks at youth culture in the neighbourhood.

At the Centre, first-generation Chinese-Canadian Elwin Xie says he can relate to the new exhibit, called “Raised in Chinatown.” He’s says he’s reminded of his own experience as he looks at the images of Vancouver’s Chinese Canadian youth culture between 1910 and the 1960s.

“So, so, so important to be able to tell our story, how we lived, what we did, rather than constantly hearing what people did to us,” said Xie.

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Xie says he enjoys learning about first-generation Chinese-Canadians like him creating their own identity despite the racism some experienced living in Chinatown.

Vancouver Chinatown Foundation Chair Carol Lee agrees that it’s important to share these stories.

“I think that it shows, while there was a lot of discrimination during the 1910’s and 1960’s, the parents were working very hard but the children were the ones playing on the streets,” said Lee. “They were ones that came up with phrase “Chinese-Canadian” and what it meant to belong. So, these young courageous children decided they were going to join clubs and athletic pursuits, so they could feel like they belong to the Canadian Mosaic.”

The exhibit showcases old photos and video’s of Chinese Canadians playing sports and being part of teams like tennis, soccer and basketball, as well as culturally historical items like a uniform worn by the Vancouver Chinese Community Drill Team, which danced at events around the city in the 1960s.

The exhibit was put together by 19 second-year students from the Langara Design Formation program. Joe Gallaccio, an instructor at Langara College, says his students carried a lot of passion into the project.

“Our students were charged– given that they are also of that same age range of what the content was speaking of, but albeit much earlier generation — and how they would have potentially navigated being young people in Chinatown,” said Gallaccio.

Xie says being a young person in Chinatown wasn’t the most exciting at times however.

“Work, work, work and not too much play,” he said with a laugh.

Xie grew up working for his family’s laundry business on Union Street, and he remembers what life was like living in Chinatown in the 60’s and 70’s.

“We did not have the opportunity to join the scouts, or join clubs, or have a lot of fun. So, a lot of my childhood was spent working and we grew up before we should have.” he explained.

Those wanting to learn more about Chinese-Canadian history are encouraged to visit the Chinatown Storytelling Centre on E Pender Street.

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