A group of Hong Kong Canadians is encouraging Canadians with Hong Kong heritage to identify themselves as Hong Kong in the 2021 census, in an effort to strengthen the community’s diaspora.
With Canada’s 23rd census taking place on May 3, a campaign called #IAmHongKonger aims to defend its own identity.
“We want to show the world that this (Hong Konger) identity exists,” said Maya Lee, a spokeswoman for the #IAmHongKonger campaign. “We speak Cantonese, we have our own culture and our experience of living like Hong Kong is unique.”
Every five years, the Canadian government conducts a national census to collect information about the country’s demographics, as well as the social and economic situation of its residents.
According to the 2016 census, 215,750 respondents listed Hong Kong as their birthplace.
Lee, who was born in Hong Kong to Canadian parents, returned to Canada five years ago to study at the University of Toronto.
She said she always felt a very strong connection to her Hong Kong identity.
“For me, there is this Hong Kong spirit … We have a strong sense of community,” said Lee.
While the 2016 census included only 255 reported ethnic origins, which did not include Hong Konger, the 2021 census made changes to the questions and will provide a list of more than 500 examples of ethnic and cultural backgrounds in an effort to address gaps in previous questionnaires .
In an email, Statistics Canada stated that Hongkonger was included in the list of examples.
“Based on the 2016 response counts, our planned assumption is that‘ Hong Konger; it will be a category in the data tables released for the 2021 Census that present the variable of ethnic or cultural origin ”, he said.
In 1997, the United Kingdom surrendered Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China, with the promise of “one country, two systems”, which allowed Hong Kong to maintain its political and economic freedom. However, many questioned whether that freedom would remain.
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When looking at Hong Kong’s history, Lee thinks that there is the trauma of colonization, displacement and political divergence that Hong Kong’s inhabitants have lived through and still suffer from. She said she thinks these experiences lived by Hong Kong residents also define their identity.
Leo Shin, professor of Asian Studies and History at the University of British Columbia, said that there is “no simple history of Hong Kong or the identity of Hong Kong”.
Shin said that people often find comfort in certain Hong Kong narratives. For a long time, the city’s culture was seen as the embodiment of where “the East meets the West”, or a place of uncertainty where many take refuge, he said.
“Of course, not all stories are equally persuasive, but we tell stories to make sense of our identities,” he said.
Shin is also the organizer of the Hong Kong Studies Initiative, an UBC initiative dedicated to promoting teaching and research in the city.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Shin was educated in the USA. He moved to Toronto with his family in 1989, who, according to Shin, was “right in the middle of the migration wave triggered by the 1997 issue”.
In the 1990s, Canada saw an influx of immigration from Hong Kong. According to Statistics Canada, a tenth of recent immigrants in 1996 were from Hong Kong, along with migrants from China, India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
In 1996, there were 1,039,000 recent immigrants, that is, those who immigrated to Canada between 1991 and 1996, with almost a quarter of recent East Asian immigrants.
Alex Ngai, 49, was one of them. In 1997, Ngai came to Canada to be reunited with his family in Canada, after finishing his studies in the United Kingdom.
Ngai said that whenever people asked where he is from, he would say Hong Kong. He added that it takes some time and effort to explain his identity to people, as there is no formal recognition of Hong Kong’s identity in Canada.
He said that people used to confuse him with his colleagues from mainland China and Taiwan because of the similarity in appearance.
Ngai also added that unless people have some knowledge about Hong Kong, most will only see Hong Kong as a point on the map of China.
“That’s why I think we need to tell people our differences,” he said. “Just as there are other cultural groups in other parts of the world, although they are now in Canada, they have their own identity.”
As the father of two Canadian children, Ngai said he tries to speak to his children in Cantonese as much as possible and has brought them back to Hong Kong a few times.
He added that sharing Hong Kong’s history, geography and stories with his eldest son also reinforces his understanding of their culture.
“We talked about how and why children grow up the way they (grow) in Hong Kong, how we create our own spaces and how our shared experience makes us who we are,” said Ngai.
“It is difficult for them to understand all of politics and other things, especially when they are younger,” he said. “For my son, it is Hong Kong Disneyland, buildings and shopping malls that impress him the most.”
However, Ngai said his son can find his own community of Hong Kong Canadians when he meets friends with similar backgrounds, sharing certain words and inside jokes in Cantonese, even calling himself “Grupo Canto”.
Shin said he believed that generations different from those who identify themselves as Hong Kong residents would offer different ways of standing compared to those of mainland China.
“In my view, the best way to honor Hong Kong is not to preserve, but to extend our understanding of it, both in its own right and as a historically constituted space, but also in the context of collective human experience,” said Shin.
Ricker Choi, although born in Hong Kong, considered himself a Canadian, as he immigrated to Canada when he was 9 years old. During his 30 years in Canada, he said he really had no connection with Hong Kong.
He began to recover his long-lost identity in June 2019, when he saw Hong Kong residents take to the streets to protest an extradition project now extinct in the news.
Choi, who is a business consultant specializing in financial risk management, now sells paintings to raise money for pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, especially Hong Kong protesters seeking asylum in Canada.
Choi said he thinks resilience in Hong Kong’s inhabitants defines the city, adding that this “protest culture” prevailed after Hong Kong’s transfer.
“I think this ongoing struggle is part of the culture of Hong Kong,” said Choi, adding that he will be proud to identify himself as a Hong Kong citizen at the next Census.
Crispin Chow, another spokesman for the #IAmHongKonger campaign, emphasizes that the goal of the campaign is not only for Hong Kong Canadians to participate in the census, but also to provide reliable data so that the government can better serve Hong Kong communities. and Cantonese in Canada.
Chow, who was born in Canada but raised in Hong Kong, said Canadians in Hong Kong have long been ignored. Through that census, he said he hoped the statistics would show the government that such a community exists.
“From there, they will be able to provide us with the resources we need, such as resources in the Cantonese language or resources written in traditional Chinese,” said Chow.
The 2021 census, for example, provides information about the census in 25 unofficial languages, including traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese, in separate documents.
“We need these resources because the elderly in our community are facing language barriers and some do not understand Chinese or simplified Mandarin,” he said.
Citizens can complete the online census questionnaire from May 3, while this year’s census day is May 11, according to the 2021 census website.