If Joseph Martinez was given the option, he would “export half of the population of Richmond back to China.”
Owner of Little Paws Animal Clinic and resident of the newly created federal riding of Steveston – Richmond East in British Colombia, Martinez is upset by the “arrogance” of immigrants.
His is part of a growing undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment in the riding.
Along with contiguous riding of Richmond Centre from which it was partly carved out, this area near Vancouver has a high concentration of visible minorities.
The debate around immigration has long-since been a hot button issue in the area.
According to the recently published Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote book by former director-general of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Andrew Griffith, 43 per cent of Steveston – Richmond East identifies itself as ethnic Chinese and 11 per cent as South Asian, while in Richmond Centre the split is 51 per cent Chinese, five per cent South Asian.
Martinez says for him it isn’t about race per se as he would prefer to have Taiwanese immigrants around because “they’re more respectful.”
In fact, he wants “nice Chinese” people who he defines as anyone who isn’t from Hong Kong and makes an attempt to learn English and “greet other races instead of ignoring them.” He also wants newcomers to respect the rules of the road and not drive recklessly as they do in Asia.
A community divided
The debate around immigration has long-since been a hot button issue in the area, and a letter to the editor in last week’s Richmond News brought it to the fore at the start of the election campaign.
In her letter, reader Emilie Henderson expressed her frustrations on reading letters from other residents about their dislike of new immigrants and the change that comes with them.
I read these letters and feel anger at the pure ignorance and lack of perspective of these ‘locals’, descendants of immigrants who likely faced similar hurdles in their adaptation to this country.
“Week after week, I read these letters and feel anger at the pure ignorance and lack of perspective of these ‘locals’, descendants of immigrants who likely faced similar hurdles in their adaptation to this country populated by immigrants,” she wrote.
Henderson goes on in her letter to say Richmond is a wonderful place to live because of its diversity, not in spite of it.
Steveston resident Lori Crump says she is inclined to partially agree with Henderson as immigration has its good outcomes too.
Out on an evening bicycle ride by the water, Crump says her relative’s property value going up is one such positive. “You also learn more about other cultures. There were some Russians who came in. Mandarin. It’s all over the map.”
However, she says more regulation on immigration is needed – something electoral candidates Kenny Chiu (Conservative), Joe Peschisolido (Liberal), Scott Stewart (New Democratic Party) and Laura-Leah Shaw (Green Party) should debate on in the coming weeks.
The decision to stop businesswoman Wendy Yuan from seeking nomination seems to have upset many ethnic Chinese supporters of the [Liberal] party.
But the Liberal nomination in the riding itself had its own share of controversy. The decision to stop businesswoman Wendy Yuan from seeking nomination seems to have upset many ethnic Chinese supporters of the party.
The acclamation of Peschisolido, a former Richmond MP who was elected in 2000 under the Canadian Alliance banner, is seen as an attempt by the Liberals to field someone with sufficient right-wing credentials to breach a Conservative stronghold.
Alice Wong, the Conservative incumbent in neighbouring Richmond Centre, won her seat in 2011 with over 58 per cent of the votes. This time around she will be competing for votes from her own ethnic group as the Liberals have fielded Lawrence Woo and the Greens Vincent Chui. Jack Trovado is running for the NDP.
More accepting than Vancouver
But whether attitudes around immigration will shape the election outcome in both the Richmond ridings remains a moot issue.
When New Canadian Media hit the streets for a straw poll, it found most people were welcoming and open to immigrants.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) student Fran Li, who grew up in Steveston before moving into a suburban neighbourhood of Richmond, said the city had a “pretty good attitude” towards immigrants.
“It was important to have a bigger perspective of the world.”
Based on her experience of travelling between Vancouver and Richmond to attend SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus, the 19 year old feels more accepted in Richmond. She shared an example of a panhandler in Vancouver telling her to go back to Asia when she ignored him.
Li says her high school had more multicultural events due to international transfer students. It even had a multicultural club, which she enjoyed.
Those school events helped her learn more about the world as opposed to just what’s happening locally. “It was important to have a bigger perspective of the world.”
Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post
Deanna Cheng is a freelance journalist who has been published in various publications such as Vancouver Courier and Asian Pacific Post. She often covers culture, intersectionality and Vancouver.