Being Trespassers

block print[514]

Block print by Angela Kruger

nicole yakashiro & angela kruger

PAIN AND PLACE

“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.”[1]

Angela Kruger was just one of the nearly three hundred or so people that stood before Vancouver City Council in May. In a room full of peers, mentors,[2] developers, and council members, she spoke to defend 105 Keefer[3] from a rezoning proposal that threatened the heart of Chinatown. Angela is not Chinese Canadian nor does she live in Chinatown—but she feels its erasure.

you built this: address town
when it wasn’t address town
this gone thing
“Pauerugai,”
we say, as if it’s somewhere

“Chinatown,” which we say like it’s nothing
like it ain’t no thing to just say:
Where do you live? Chinatown.
At the heart of what? Chinatown.
Gentrification where? Chinatown.
Youth Collaborative For? Chinatown.
The what Concern Group? Chinatown.
The what Action Group? Chinatown—they got three groups, man
Like they know where they belong.

whereas we
demarcate
in time and space
“75 years since,”
as if counting helps.

You can hear: Chinatown
which is magic, music to my ears, three-syllable assertion
drop-dead gorgeous with its confidence like a person who loves themselves
and with those consonants supporting the vowels sounds like good fuckin’ parents,
there, in the smell of Chinese foods that I don’t know the names of,
in those lettered tiles lined up in a row that spell things like KEEFER and PENDER in the pavement I didn’t pour,
in the little wheeled karts with groceries inside,
in chipped and chipping red paint on lanterns,
in the specific way that poh-pohs and gung-gungs run for the bus,
there it is: Chinatown.

whereas
i don’t know your home
stolen from us
“Enemy Aliens,”
they said, and that was it.[4]

It matters that, in the case of 105 Keefer, there was a public hearing and it matters that we talk about it. The tenuous and ongoing struggle[5] to save the site at 105 Keefer from redevelopment deserves the publicity and thoughtful reflections it has received in the past few months, and indeed, much more. There is no doubt that the work of the Chinatown Concern Group唐人街關注組, the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown青心在唐人街, the Chinatown Action Group華埠行動小組, and the wider Chinatown community (much of which is made up of seniors) warrants such a response. It also inspires us, as yonsei and gosei, navigating our own precarious spaces to belong.

When Angela spoke about pain at the centre of the 105 Keefer debate, she entered an already existing conversation about the politics of place. The politics here are importantly specific: when we say “105 Keefer,” we are talking about the overwhelming assault of gentrification; we are talking about a community working tirelessly to save their home(s); and we are talking about the politics of Chinatown and by extension, what it means to be Chinese and Chinese Canadian in Vancouver. But Angela’s speech, published in The Volcano and The Bulletin / Geppo, and discussed among Japanese-Canadian community members, is, in key ways, not about the Chinese-Canadian experience (for she cannot speak to it). It is decidedly about her own—a messy, tangled experience. So, her entrance into this debate and the attention she received because of it is messy and tangled too. This gives us pause – something is happening here.

BELONGING (OR NOT)

This piece stems from a conversation I (Nicole) had with Angela when I asked her if she would be willing to speak with me about her speech – not to amplify her words, but rather, to explore how she found them. Her words both advocated for a community to which she does not belong and articulated her positionality as a descendent of a neighbouring marginalized community once displaced and dispossessed (to which she presumably does belong). That is, Angela’s speech drew attention to the complicated nature of belonging, and specifically her belonging (or lack thereof). It was from such a place that we departed, with a mixture of discomfort and uncertainty, ultimately to arrive here, writing this. Why do we get to write this? How do we account for our visibility in spaces like “105 Keefer”[6] as contributing to, or reproducing the vanishing of Others?[7] How is it that our voices are given platforms to be heard in spaces that are not our own?

Something about the recognition Angela received in the wake of her speech to City Council gives us pause because Angela’s belonging in the Chinatown community (and her voice within it) is not resolute. We don’t write this to suggest that it is. We write this for another reason: to expose the closeted position of being both a part of, and utterly separate from something. We write this to understand our in-between selves: to meditate on our mixed, intergenerational, intersectional, and intercultural Japanese-Canadian position in advocacy and academia. We write this to better locate ourselves (and perhaps others) in this ongoing work.

RACE AND SPACE

In the introduction to Cheryl Harris’ foundational piece, “Whiteness as Property,” Harris describes a particular type of societal-spatial mobility that was afforded to her grandmother because of her grandmother’s racial appearance. She was a Black woman born in “anywhere/nowhere, Mississippi”—a Black woman born with “‘white’ features.” Harris articulates her existence

… in the burgeoning landscapes of urban America, [where] anonymity was possible for a Black person with “white” features. She was transgressing boundaries, crossing borders, spinning on margins, traveling between dualities of Manichean space, rigidly bifurcated into light/dark, good/bad, white/Black . . . . she could thus enter the white world, albeit on a false passport, not merely passing, but trespassing.[8]

We quote Harris’ commentary on the interplay between race and space for its capacity to elucidate our own ambiguous existence in the societal spaces associated with 105 Keefer: while it is important to note that the Black experience in the southern United States is distinct (and distant) from our experience in Canada, this relationship between race and space reminds us how we are trespassers too. Our intersection of race (i.e. mixed Japanese/white) functions as a passport (albeit false, or false-feeling) whereby we “get the stamp” and can be seen as representative of the Japanese-Canadian community, which gives us further access to the Chinese-Canadian community, a community facing the contemporary violence of dispossession. We too, can “trangres[s] boundaries, cross borders, [and] spin on margins.” We are both at once a part of and utterly separate from these communities. This peculiar feeling of trespassing in the act of passing is indeed familiar.

Harris’ words poignantly articulate that particular something that gives us pause when reflecting on the reception of Angela’s speech and her subsequent recognition for making it. That the property of 105 Keefer has become a synecdoche for Chinatown, which neighbours historic Pauerugai, means that Angela gains a proximity to the issue of 105 Keefer that she is afforded via her passport (however contestable) to the Japanese-Canadian community. So, in the ongoing fight for 105 Keefer (and the wider Chinatown neighbourhood), Angela’s words feel misplaced to us because she herself is mis(dis)placed. Even if we make connections about the histories of racism, even if we talk about the lingering resonances of property dispossession: Chinatown is not Pauerugai, and Pauerugai is not the only place Angela is from.

PASSING AND TRESPASSING

This is not a call for affirmation of our belonging, but rather an exploration into this placeless position, and the feelings that often accompany it. It is an exhumation of what is always buried. It is a response to the many “but you do belongs” (though, well-intentioned), to argue that perhaps we do not and that perhaps we don’t have to—at least, not in the way belonging has historically been demarcated and delineated.

Trespassing is layered. It acknowledges that activist and academic work are not guiltless ventures: our practices are often invasive and intrusive, and even at times, selfish acts. It calls attention to the societal context in which we live, whereby spaces (often commodified, developed, and mapped) such as the site at 105 Keefer or the addresses on Powell Street (where Pauerugai used to be) both create and preclude belonging. And perhaps most crucially, it recognizes that we are trespassers—in a very different way—in “Vancouver” on these ancestral and unceded lands of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and mi ce:p kʷətxʷiləm (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

I wasn’t used to it without the streetlights, but off I went walking into the dark because I was looking for you and I was determined to find you, so I walked into the dark until I thought I was seeing things but I swear it got to be this blue dark, long blue dark, like indigo hair but neverending and sweeping around me and everything else like water. And I don’t know if you know, but there’s a big bridge I had to cross to get here which normally everyone hates crossing, but I crossed it to get here because I wanted to meet you, and to be honest, it wasn’t so bad tonight. Just me, the moon, the sky, and the stars. And the water below. And no one else, really. Well, you, I guess. I’m sorry.

Is this where you live? Lived?
No one can tell me what happened
in the time I haven’t known you.

There is no real resolution to this piece. We intend to leave you with more questions than answers. And there will only be more as we continue to navigate a place non-existent, a liminal, no-where place in-between. Is there a way to transcend trespassing? For now, we are faced with the task of sitting in our trespassing: acknowledging it, knowing it, continuing it.

We deeply thank all those past and present who navigate and have navigated, with wisdom and strength, their belonging. We also wish to thank, especially, Kaitlin Findlay for her endless patience, Laura Ishiguro for her profound understanding, and Trevor Wideman and Will Archibald for their treasured insights.

[1] This is a brief excerpt from Angela Kruger’s speech to Vancouver City Council on May 25, 2017. She was Speaker 87 at the Public Hearing for 105 Keefer Revised Rezoning Application.

[2] By “peers” and “mentors,” we refer primarily to young Chinese Canadian activists who have been advocating for a truly community-based preservation of Chinatown and other activists from the Downtown Eastside community.

[3] For those unfamiliar with the site at 105 Keefer and its politics, a brief summary: In the latter part of May 2017, Vancouver City Council held a public hearing to evaluate a Revised Rezoning Application submitted by Beedie Development. The application sought to rezone the site from HA-1A (Chinatown Historic Area) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District in order to build a 115-foot-tall twelve-story condo development at 105 Keefer. This Revised Rezoning Application garnered much attention from the Chinatown community, and specifically from the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown 青心在唐人街, the Chinatown Concern Group 唐人街關注組, and the Chinatown Action Group 華埠行動小組, three local activist groups who, faced with the applications for rezoning of the site at 105 Keefer, worked together (and alongside many Chinatown seniors) to express their cohesive opposition.

[4] The poems within this piece were written specifically for this platform by Angela Kruger. Find more of her work at www.angelamaykruger.com.

[5] We encourage readers to research the issue and visit http://www.savechinatownheritage.org/ for a Chinatown community perspective.

[6] Here, we use quotations in order to indicate that we do not mean the literal space located at the address of 105 Keefer, but rather the whole multitudinous space taken up by issue of 105 Keefer (i.e. the literal and figurative spaces in which the issue plays out, including but not limited to Vancouver City Hall Chambers, meeting rooms in Carnegie Community Centre, public streets and sidewalks on which people stand when discussing the issue, people’s headspace when thinking about the issue, the space on the page of a publication, etc.).

[7] Angie Morrill, Eve Tuck and the Super Futures Haunt Quollective, “Before Dispossession, or Surviving It,” Liminalities: A Journal of Performative Studies 12, no. 1 (2016): 9. We borrow this phrasing from Morrill, Tuck & Super Futures Haunt Quollective, who ask (challenge) Japanese-American filmmaker Rea Tajiri how she “grapple[s] with representing vanishing without reproducing the violence of vanishing?” In her film Lordville, Tajiri portrays Betia Van Dunk, a Minisink Delaware woman, as a ghost.

[8] Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993): 1710-1711.

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