British Columbia

Chinatown anthology focuses on stories of resilience during COVID-19

Stories of resistance and change make up part of a new anthology of Chinatown Stories, written in the era of COVID-19.

The Vancouver neighbourhood had been struggling with gentrification before the pandemic

A pedestrian walks through the Chinatown neighbourhood of Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A new anthology of stories from Vancouver's Chinatown shows how the community is surviving and thriving despite the challenges of gentrification and COVID-19. 

The neighbourhood has great cultural and historic significance, but has been hit hard by the pandemic. One survey done in October 2019 found that 17 per cent of Chinatown businesses were empty compared to the citywide average of 10 per cent.

The combination of higher rents due to gentrification and reduced foot traffic has shuttered some of the long-standing mom and pop operations in the neighbourhood in the past year. 

"And, you know, when these shops close their doors, it affects the people who depend on their supplies for culturally appropriate foods and groceries and specifically, you know, Chinese seniors and other low-income folks who happen to live in the area," said Brooke Xiang, president of Chinatown Today, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing stories about Vancouver's Chinatown.

Xiang is the co-editor of Chinatown Stories: Volume 3. It's an anthology of stories and interviews from Chinatown during the pandemic. 

A woman buys herbal products through a plastic protective screen in Vancouver's Chinatown. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"Editors aren't supposed to pick favourites, but for me personally, I love the two interviews that we did with Chinese seniors," Xiang said. 

"What I learned from these interviews personally is that the kind of community-building work that we are trying to do today, as youths or younger people — like this isn't anything new, right? It's what our elders ... have been doing for generations."

Chinatown Stories Volume 3 is now available for purchase. (Chinatown Today)

As the Lunar New Year approaches on February 12, Xiang hopes the Year of the Ox brings a sense of strength for the community and the organization.

"The ox is a symbol for strength and for stubbornness. I hope that Chinatown Today can be a, you know, maybe not stubborn organization, but a source of fortitude and that hopefully it's a better year."

Chinatown Stories: Volume 3 is now available for purchase.

Listen to the interview with Brooke Xiang on CBC's On The Coast:

With files from On The Coast