Don’t condemn Chinatown to the same fate suffered by Vancouver’s Pauerugai

Angela Kruger (pic from Youth Collaboration for Chinatown)

Good evening, Mayor and Council. First, I’d like to acknowledge that we are on the Unceded Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm), Tsleil-Wauthuth (Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh), and Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw) peoples. Let’s do our best to honour them.

My name is Angela Kruger and I am speaking on behalf of the Japanese Canadian Young Leaders of Vancouver, which is a grassroots group of young Japanese Canadian activists, researchers, and arts and culture professionals working together to strengthen and empower our community. I am speaking against the proposal for rezoning at 105 Keefer.

I have to speak to you today because I am in pain. I am in pain because for the past few years, and especially for the past 86 or so speakers, I feel that I have been sitting virtually powerless in a foldable blue plastic chair witnessing the start of an economic landslide that threatens to erase Chinatown much in the same way that the Japanese Canadian Powell Street neighbourhood, called Pauerugai, was erased in years prior. I am here to tell you that this—bearing witness to the disappearance of Chinatown—causes me pain, and although I certainly don’t expect you to assess a proposal for rezoning in our city based on the extent to which I am in pain, I am telling you about my pain because I think others are in pain too, and I feel strongly that pain cannot be absent from this conversation about our city’s thoroughly contentious site at 105 Keefer.

I was here until 11PM on Tuesday. Several speakers alluded to or explicitly named what has been talked about as “the soul of Chinatown”. I am telling you, Mayor and Council: the reason we are here in these Chambers discussing “the soul of Chinatown” is because people are in pain and the reason people are in pain is because they are experiencing a traumatic loss of home, neighbourhood, and community that harkens back to still-felt, still-haunting, still-happening experiences of racism and discrimination, sometimes—in the case of Japanese Canadians, at least—confusingly in the name of safety and protection, however wrongly so.

I know that things change. I know that people, neighbourhoods, and communities lose things. I know that people, neighbourhoods, and communities can even lose themselves. But I know that because I have lost myself and my own neighbourhood. And I have to work tirelessly—it feels like impossible work—just to keep the remaining sense of community that we do have. I am a 26-year-old mixed Japanese Canadian woman. I am not naïve to the realities of the world. I know that discussions about historical wrongs, impacts of racism, haunting pasts, and pain are not items on the agenda for a public hearing about 105 Keefer. But they are the very things that I think are at the heart of the site and at the heart of this hearing. If this feels as gruelling for you as it does for me, as it does for my friends in Chinatown, as it does I’m sure in its own way for Mr. Beedie and his team, I am just here to remind you: that’s because 105 Keefer has a heart, and it is hurting.

I stand in solidarity with the Chinatown Concern Group, Chinatown Action Group, Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, and with so many seniors who have expressed to you their concerns about access to affordable housing, affordable food, and their overall sense of belonging in their own neighbourhood. I understand that not every person who is connected to or living in Chinatown feels the same way about 105 Keefer, nor do I expect them to. I have seen lots of Chinese seniors here in red t-shirts that read SUPPORT 105 KEEFER. I will share with you that I am concerned that some or all of you will see their t-shirts or hear their words as decontextualized, simple, easy support rather than the complicated expression of a desperate need for affordable social housing that it is. I see a tragedy when I see these people wearing these t-shirts because they remind of all the Japanese Canadians who tried to save and protect their communities by working with the government—only to watch with the rest of their families and community as their belongings and homes were sold and neighbourhoods destroyed.

I would like to say that the site at 105 Keefer which many people have reminded us is currently a parking lot was not always a parking lot—it used to boast two opera houses. Moreover, it is a parking lot which is situated at a formidably powerful location in our city and in the Chinatown neighbourhood for its proximity to important sites that others have mentioned like the Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden and monument commemorating Chinese Canadian soldiers. I would also like to remind you that this is not a proposal to develop the site at 105 Keefer to 25 units of social housing. This is a proposal for a giant condo development that happens to include 25 units of social housing, only 8 of which can foreseeably actually be affordable (which is debateable at $700), and 17 of which the applicant has told us they aim to make affordable. While I understand that cost-benefit analyses are useful and necessary at times like these, I urge you to not fall victim to the rhetoric that asks “So are you saying you don’t want social housing?” This is not what anyone is saying. So let’s not ask ourselves that.

Let’s ask ourselves why we are in pain. I am in pain because I have already lost my neighbourhood, and I don’t want my friends to lose theirs. Let’s honour this land. Let’s do better. Let’s do 100% social housing. Somehow.

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