By Jia Pu——second post
What is your impression of Chinatown? Before coming to Montreal, my understanding of Chinatown all came from online videos and TV programs about it. For me, Chinatown should be a place filled with traditional Chinese features, like the honorific archway, red lanterns and, of course, Chinese characters, which can help to maintain and propel Chinese identity of the immigrants and their offsprings. Meanwhile, as a tourist attraction, Chinatown can provide tourists from all over the world with an experience of Chinese culture. However, what I saw in Chinatown here completely changed my impression of it. I made the decision to visit Chinatown in Montreal the second day after arriving because I thought it would be a good way to relieve me from my homesickness since I could enjoy Chinese food and talk to people in Chinese instead of French. But what I saw there was almost nothing like what I had imagined before. To my disappointment, there were just a few restaurants and stores operated by Chinese immigrants, which covered quite a small area and looked shabby. Besides, I noticed that even Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese restaurants could be found in Chinatown, making me more confused about the purpose of building it in the first place. Therefore, I read several articles concerning Chinatown and tried to find the answer.
Chinatown is defined as follows in one of the articles: “It is usually perceived as a Chinese quarter of any city outside China, ‘a self-contained urban enclave where nearly all Chinese people, their businesses, and their social institutions were confined’(Lai, 1988, p. xv)” (Jia Lou, 2007, pp.172). Early Chinese immigrants to new countries may find it difficult to get employed due to their lack of language skills and unfamiliarity with work environment. “One of the ways that disadvantaged newcomers sought to improve their living conditions was to enter into self-employment. Often, they set up businesses in dense areas where many co-ethnics lived, transforming the neighbourhood into an ethnic enclave.”(Mai B. Phan & Chiu M. Luk ,2008, pp.294). That makes me realize the beginning of Chinatown and its original purpose, which is more to do with economy rather than culture. No wonder few elements related to traditional Chinese culture can be found there. Even the way Chinese dishes are cooked has been changed to fit in with native residents’ taste. Plus, as I mentioned above, Chinatown has become a mix of Cantonese-speaking Chinese, Mainland Chinese, Vietnamese, and South Asian groups. From what I have read, it is also true for Chinatowns in other places like Washington, D.C. and Toronto. Although the owners come from different backgrounds or countries, most of them use bilingual Chinese-English (or Chinese-French in the case of Montreal ) shop signs because they all cater to the same consumer group. Owing to the changes it has gone through, Chinatown now can hardly carry forward Chinese identity. But I believe at least part of Chinese culture can get propelled since Mandarin and Cantonese would be in wide use within that area.
With its ongoing development, Chinatown does not help much with propelling Chinese identity for the immigrants, especially for future generations who are born without much exposure to Chinese culture. Then what can be done to cultivate immigrants’ identity? Is there any way that we can resort to?
Jia Lou, (2007). Revitalizing Chinatown into a heterotopia. Space and Culture vol.10, no.2, May 2007, 170-194
Mai B. Phan & Chiu M. Luk, (2008). ‘I don’t say I have a business in Chinatown’: Chinese sub-ethnic relations in Toronto’s Chinatown West. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31, no. 2 (2008), 294-326