People make Steveston historic


Though I am a relatively new resident in Richmond, I am by now accustomed to the regular laments about Chinese-only signage in the opinion pages of the Richmond Review.

However, I feel compelled to respond to Ray Arnold’s April 9 letter (“Respect is a two-way street”) because it highlights a serious flaw in the current discussion about language and culture in Richmond.

Steveston is, indeed, an historic town, but what makes it historic is its people, not the English language. I would guess that the Tsawwassen First Nation and at least some Japanese-Canadians—most of whom probably speak English as a first language—might take exception to the desire by some for Steveston to be the last bastion of Anglo-Richmond. If  “historic authenticity” is important, shouldn’t a few businesses display a few letters of kanji advertising canned salmon, or does the letter-writer’s version of history only go back as far as January of 1942?

More tellingly, the letter writer “can’t help but wonder how soon it might be before the Chinese-only signage controversy also engulfs the last remaining vestige of our earlier Richmond culture.” The real problem here is not that businesses with Chinese-only signs threaten to engulf Steveston or, for that matter, Richmond as a whole. Rather, the problem is that a small group of vocal Anglophones feels threatened and has, as a result, created a controversy. Yes, there will be a Chinese-only signage controversy in Steveston if people choose to make it an issue.

I know that Richmond has undergone dramatic demographic shifts in recent years and certain residents are concerned about the direction their community is heading.  Earlier this year, Arnold wrote elsewhere about the “problematic” inter-cultural problems that exist in this community. I agree that there are profound inter-cultural problems in Richmond. Arnold and others have justifiably raised the issue of shark-fin soup; more recently, this publication has reported on quasi-legal drivers. However, I do not feel that his English-only signage proposal is the way forward. Moreover, the signage “controversy” serves to obscure the real problems and has the unintended effect of making concerned citizens look like bigots.

Lee Blanding



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