The progress of Chinese-Canadian reconciliation in Burnaby
The city launched its first Chinese-Canadian reconciliation community engagement event, with more to follow
On Oct. 6, the City of Burnaby’s new book, Rooted, became available for sale at the Burnaby Village Museum. The book, which is available in two versions; the first in traditional Chinese and English, and the second in simplified Chinese and English, chronicles the history of the Chinese diaspora in Burnaby.
As part of the City of Burnaby’s efforts on Chinese-Canadian reconciliation, an event was also held on Oct. 17 where 160 people gathered around large round tables to discuss the legacy of historical discrimination against the Chinese-Canadian community. Burnaby residents of Chinese heritage can also take a survey online and contribute to the conversation. These efforts were launched this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act and take steps to heal the wounds of the past.
Burnaby heritage planner, Lisa Codd, spoke with the Beacon about the city’s new Chinese-Canadian reconciliation process and its current progress. Codd was one of the presenters at the Oct. 17 event and she will play a role in organizing future events. She is involved with the research and data collection.
“A core part of this work is understanding that Chinese-Canadians are foundational members of our community. That despite racism and discrimination they made an impact and continue to make an impact as members of our community. Sometimes when you talk about historical racism, it can almost be dehumanizing to people, all you’re thinking about is what happened to them,” Codd said. This project aims to change that and present a more holistic view of the community, its members, and its history, she added.
According to Codd, the event attracted a diverse group of Burnaby residents, many of them of Chinese heritage. Some attendees’ families were directly affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act and its legacy of discrimination and injustice. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, it was a surprisingly light-hearted event.
City of Burnaby organized its first Chinese-Canadian reconciliation event on Oct. 17. Photo: Lisa Codd
“It was so fun! We had about 160 people in the room…People sat together and had really great conversations,” Codd told the Beacon. The round tables were divided by language, with Cantonese, Mandarin and English-speaking tables. All announcements, presentations and other materials at the tables were translated. Snacks and water were available throughout.
Attendees included members of the city’s Chinese-Canadian Reconciliation Advisory Group, city staff members, as well as members of the Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table, among others. One councillor was present, as a member of the Chinese-Canadian community and not in an official capacity. Codd declined to mention who it was. Organizers did not invite any elected officials to ensure that participants felt comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences.
“We really were concerned that people felt like they can have an open conversation, but we did have one member of council come as a community member, a person whose family was impacted,” Codd said.
Most of the conversation time was spent thinking about what happens next, what participants would like to see from the city in terms of an apology and reconciliation moving forward and what they want an inclusive community in Burnaby to look like in the future and how to achieve that goal.
“A lot of the conversations were forward-looking, it was very inspiring, the commitment in the room to build a stronger community,” Codd said. She declined to share details about the conversations out of concern for how they might influence future events, “We want people to come to future sessions with open hearts and fresh ideas.”
This is just the beginning of a longer process, Codd added. The next step will involve smaller events and focus groups. From the first event, the city identified more people who are from families affected by historical discrimination. They will also conduct storytelling sessions, in which one person, a couple, or a parent and child from a historic Chinese-Canadian family will create an oral history and record some of their stories. This will be followed by a larger community event and dialogue in 2024, and then it will be time to report on the findings, present them to council and proceed with the next step in reconciliation.
“For me, being able to share some of the historical research we’ve done and tell all those stories with the group, was really rewarding,” Codd told the Beacon.
If you are interested in taking part in the conversation, you can start by taking the survey.
This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.