Posts tagged: Mainlander
I have been thinking about The Mainlander’s recent two-part series, “The Persistence of Anti-Asian Racism.”
The Mainlander’s strength has been retelling the story of Vancouver through its property development, but this strength is also visibly rooted in an ideology that that is more political than tactical.
My reaction to Part 1 was of curiosity to see how this story will stand up as the power dynamics continue to shift. I was interested to see how the article would follow through on their acute speculation: “As extreme-right movements today pick up momentum in Europe and elsewhere in the context of financial crisis and long-term economic stagnation, it is now more than ever that we should examine global and local histories of racism and xenophobia.”
The piece held all the potential to be a vital and sobering analysis of Vancouver’s economic position as there is a Federal shift to focus on trade relations with China. The very audible middle class malaise in Vancouver over “foreign investors” has been mirrored and/or perpetuated by local press and politics. The Mainlander sees this as empty rhetoric, scapegoating immigrants for a city hall problem and carrying on a civic history of xenophobic behavior towards Asians.
Only, Part 2 was a scatter shot that lost all the momentum and foundation of Part 1. A reliance was put on the term, “neoliberalism” — a word they never question — just as they use the word “Asian” indiscriminately without ever analyzing its positioning. These two words are also intertwined at the moment in understanding Vancouver’s identity, yet, no one is willing to jump in and say so.
Neoliberalism, for the purposes of this response, is free-trade on steroids. Neoliberalism is inherently tied to a lax of international regulations to promote global trade. It is hands-off governance or compliant governments choosing to focus on economic progress above and beyond all other governmental responsibilities. One could say Canada’s current focus on bringing the pipelines to the west coast is a result of neoliberalism, but this doesn’t say anything about the trajectory of actions that led to this moment.
The term “neoliberalism” has been in heavy rotation in internationally-minded press outlets such as Al-Jazeera and The Guardian and academic/cultural journals like e-flux since the economic collapse in 2008, and even more so in the past year during Occupy’s momentum — but neoliberalism is a net, and you can only get so far when stuck in one.
As a writer, I am more interested in how we can get over this word, beneath it, around, and through this word in order to break the cycle of its existence. I have stated elsewhere that the umbrella understanding of neoliberalism is a meme, the emptiest of signifiers that blankets over a host of social atrocities and lack of government accountability to create an easy term loaded with cultural cache. The Mainlander doesn’t look for cultural caches, as I do believe they are more complicated than digressing on idioms. But every time I read neoliberalism offered as a pat answer or excuse, I only get the sense of the pyramid mentality being reinforced and perspectives stalled.
Blaming wealthy immigrants for supposedly buying up all available property and driving up Vancouver’s real estate prices is a scapegoat gesture that’s similar in logic to blaming shoppers for supposedly spending too much at the new shopping mall and disrupting existing businesses. This much is uncontested.
“Wealthy” immigrants and their speculative schemes flooding into Canada is how this land got turned into what is now referred to as Canada. Immigration is the most Canadian thing about Canada. I, too, am an immigrant, and I am reminded so everyday by the various people who claim this place as their own. Vancouver is unreconciled from the start with its base on unceded Coast Salish territory. The city has consistently absorbed waves of international immigration from Europe and Asia to American war dodgers along with interprovincial migration, which is now at an all-time low according to the last consensus. People are always looking for the “here” here, but also stating up front, “Well, I’m not from here, but … “
A majority of current immigrants and general population in Vancouver are of Asian descent, which means everyone from Afghanistan to the Philippines. Of this “visible minority” is a majority of Chinese, who now make up the largest percentage of “visible minorities” in Vancouver. I have never been clear on how ethnic minorities are calculated in a place like Vancouver, and I am also unclear as to how they calculate, or if they calculate the differences within dialects spoken, the differences between being from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and China, and if it matters how many generations have been spent within Canada.
So what does it mean to be critical of a city that has a history of being racist towards Asians without acknowledging the differences between Asians?
This is where Part 2 falls apart: blindly switching Chinese and Asian as interchangeable references while arguing against racial scapegoating. One cannot attack the very thing that is then used as a shield. The reduction of race is perhaps a cause of over-political correctness, but in terms of global economics, it’s akin to confusing Germany with the rest of Europe. Chinese investment is something serious to consider (which makes it the target of racist rants, but cannot be altogether glossed over) as the figures boil down to an immense amount of capital flowing out of China, a nation with a very different political economy within Asia and working on an unparallel scale. We are closer to the beginning than the end of China’s boom, which is awe-inspiring for better or for worse. Canada is also closer than ever to ratifying the long-sought after Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China, which will alter bi-lateral relations in unprecedented ways.
Attacking anyone who is considering limitations on foreign ownership restrictions as anti-Asian is failing to see the bigger picture, which in fact, is capping the neoliberalist approach in Vancouver’s housing crisis. Development regulations is part and parcel of responsible government, but the tenderness of local racism looms too close to have a very necessary discussion on how to proceed beyond local monopolies while integrating growth from forthcoming international interest.
The Mainlander has stirred the pot, but it’s time we all reconsider what fuels the fire.
Image credit: Allan Sekula, Dismal Science: Part 1. Middle Passage. Panorama. Mid-Atlantic. November 1993, from the series, Fish Story (1995)
I wandered in close to 7:30 p.m. thinking it would be an early night: taking a quick peek at the space, at the work, and then back home. I hadn’t read the invitation very carefully. I just knew I was heading to VIVO as they were featuring the work of Allan Sekula.
In the main space a half circle of seated individuals faced the projection screen of Sekula’s images. One woman was in mid sentence about the sublime, and when she finished, one voice in the back was intermittenly referencing Marx. Alex who invited me then handed me a hefty pile of photocopies and I unfolded an uncomfortable chair. The discussion on the sublime progressed into heterogeneity, and random voices starting reading the text again, stopping every other page or so for continued and acute deliberation.
I didn’t know what I had walked into. Was this the most intense art opening ever or are media artists in Vancouver even more serious than I presumed? Whatever it was though, the momentum of the discussions clipped along through a range of perspectives and backgrounds as people came and went throughout the two and a half hours I stayed. It would turn out the night was an expanded version of the reading group, No Reading After The Internet, and that the evening was being guest facilitated by Andrew Witt, whose writings can be read on The Mainlander. This would also be the first time the reading group incorporated images, which was fitting to Sekula’s image and text project.
“The idea of a reading group isn’t new. No Reading nonetheless poses itself as an experimental learning and discussion space. Simply put, we are suspicious of our own reading abilities, and the extent to which our readings are conversant with one another. No Reading means to offer a slow space within which to retrace our steps in the hopes of discovering individual and collective ways through the realms of language and interpretation. The strategies we have at our disposal are twofold: through the yoking of our discussion to a text; and inducing conversation, where possible, between text and specific, local, contemporaneous art discussions and happenings. Participation in No Reading After the Internet is free and open to everyone, regardless of his or her familiarity with a text or its author. Texts will be handed out at the gathering. No pre-reading or research is required.”
Programmed by Alex Muir, a regular at VIVO and one of my former co-pilots for the trek down to Telluride Film Festival, No Reading will be featuring guest facilitators through the summer including Gabrielle Moser amongst others. I’m kind of overjoyed by the presence of this group as reading collectively is such a rare and slow pleasure. In a way, the evening was the opposite of what I had anticipated for yet another art opening, which more often than not is only a deluge of rushed conversations, saying hi and not saying hi, and definitely not talking about art let alone an open and informed conversation coursing through the realms of interpretation.
Check VIVO for more details and information for upcoming NRATI.