South China Morning Post: Children of rich Chinese home alone in Canada face challenges

I am grateful to the South China Morning Post‘s Ian Young for writing an article last Monday on the publication that Jo Waters and I coauthored in Global Networks on transnational youth transitions between Hong Kong and Vancouver. More on the actual article can be found here.

Illustration: Sarene Chan

After the piece published by Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun came out, Ian Young contacted Jo and me for a follow-up article in the South China Morning Post. While Doug went mostly with what our academic publication said, Ian wanted to learn more for himself about the phenomenon in a sort of boots-on-the-ground way. In addition to interviewing Jo and me (and props to him for noting that Jo is a fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford), he also interviewed a Taiwanese young man in order to round out the picture. This asymmetry between the Taiwanese and Hongkonger examples is only slightly problematic because Ian was cognizant of the difference and because he was suggesting that this phenomenon had more to do with a sort of Greater China geography than Hong Kong. The jury is still out on that, though the original theorists like Aihwa Ong and Donald Nonini in fact presume it, and I would like to see more research on different Chinese transnationalisms (pace Weiqiang Lin) to provide even more differentiated portraits.

I am grateful to Ian for writing up this piece as a work of long-form journalism, which (as he tells me) is often hard to come by these days. I’m fairly happy with the way it turned out. My comments were based mostly on the literature and our findings, and references to the economic calculations of transnational migrants from Hong Kong can be found throughout the work of David Ley, Jo Waters, Katharyne Mitchell, and Kris Olds. I am also glad that Ian was fairly careful about not having Jo and me give definitive advice for those contemplating transnational family arrangements; far be it from us to tell any family what to do! Instead, both Jo and I were quoted as emphasizing the possible emotional consequences of split families as factors for consideration. Finally, my only regret with my comments has nothing to do with Ian, but rather in my forgetfulness to mention that this emphasis on material familial bonds has long been a subject of discussion in Chinese American and Chinese Canadian history, and the go-to work on that is Madeline Hsu’s Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home.

Again, I am very glad that Ian Young contacted us about this story. To reiterate my previous posts, I am finding that these connections between academia and journalism are proving very educational for me, helping me learn about issues that are both similar and different between academic conversations and what is happening in public discourse. What is fascinating about Ian’s work is that as he is based in Vancouver, he is interested in chronicling events in the transnational social field between Vancouver and Hong Kong as a public sphere of sorts, and I will be reading with interest how he will implicitly theorize this public. These public connections are never about private publicity; they are about understanding why academia is a public good that can collaborate with other sectors, such as journalism, to inform a larger public conversation. To that end, I look forward to working with Ian Young in the future as we keep the conversation going.

Global Networks: Transnational Youth Transitions: becoming adults between Vancouver and Hong Kong

I want to announce the publication of two papers today in two separate posts.  Let me take each in order.

The first is a collaborative paper that Dr. Johanna Waters (University of Birmingham, Geography) and I co-authored.  It is titled ‘Transnational youth transitions: becoming adults between Vancouver and Hong Kong,’ and is published in Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Studies. It is currently available in Early View. I will post again when it comes into a print journal version.

The genesis of this paper is quite interesting. Jo Waters is a leading scholar in transnational geographies in the United Kingdom. Jo and I both received our graduate education in Geography at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, and we shared a common supervisor, Professor David Ley. Jo wrote her master’s thesis on transnational Hong Kong family experiences in Vancouver (check out her pieces on astronaut women and transnational family settlement) and her doctoral thesis on how Hong Kong families strategized to send their children to Vancouver for education to gain cultural capital for future employment prospects in East Asia (it is now a book). Jo and I did not overlap in the department, but when I began to study Hongkonger migration as I wrote my master’s thesis on a transnational Hongkonger church, Jo’s work provided a very interesting launching point. I remember checking out both of her theses from the Geographic Information Centre in our department and reading them with rapid page-turning interest. At this point, I also contacted Jo, telling her how much I admired her work. She was very nice to me.

As I began my doctorate, Jo and I began talking about the common points between our data, especially as I had collected more recent data in Chinese churches in both Vancouver in 2008 and Hong Kong in 2010 that corroborated her earlier findings in 2002. Deciding to focus on what we found in common about young people’s experiences of transnational families between Hong Kong and Vancouver, we merged the data. We submitted the piece to Global Networks, from where we got very good feedback from the editors and the reviewers. Jo was then extremely generous in letting me take the lead on the revisions, as this gave me a chance to undergo some crucial professional development. We then revised the piece, and then sent it back to Global Networks with my name as the corresponding author.

The article sheds light on how young people become adults in families that straddle the distance between Hong Kong and Vancouver. It examines how these young people transition from youth to adulthood, combining the literature in social geography on youth and childhood (which is itself drawn from the new social studies of childhood) with the literature on transnational migration. We looked at how young people reacted to the ways that their parents and extended family attempted to supervise them and maintain contact with them at a distance, and we explored the young people’s own sense of place. One of our central contributions is that while many people predict that youth growing up in these families often return to Hong Kong for work, we have to be cautious about describing this as a norm, for young people were often critical of their own families’ transnational strategies.

We hope that this will be a helpful paper in transnational studies more broadly. We also hope that it will give back to the communities we have studied by accurately portraying them and by shaping conversations about them that are not overly determinative about their families’ patterns of migration. Moreover–and this is only implicit in the article–as I reflect on my own engagements with Asian American ethnic studies, my hope is that this paper will help empower Asian American and Asian Canadian families and young people by taking seriously their own sense of place instead of forcing them to constantly answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’ We thank Ali Rogers, the previous editor of Global Networks, as well as our three anonymous reviewers and the copy editors, for their very constructive feedback on our paper. For my part, the experience of working with Jo Waters has been phenomenal and a part of my graduate education and professional development that I will always consider valuable.

Guest Lecture: Asia-Pacific Transnationalisms and Urban Geography

Tonight I am giving a guest lecture on Asia-Pacific transnational migrations and urban geography in a course on urban geography (Geography 350) at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver taught by my friend, Nicholas Lynch. I’ll be discussing transnational urbanisms, the feminization of migrant labour, Chinese transnationalisms and alternate Asian modernities, and the desire for global cities in the Asia-Pacific.  Of course, I have a plug on religion, migration, and the city toward the end as well.

I’m hoping to be able to do a few more guest lectures so as to have some talks prepared for when I get to teach a full-on course in topics such as urban geography, migration studies, and ethnic studies.

Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion IV: Fluidities and Fixities, Feb 2012

I was recently at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) 2012 conference, Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion IV: Fluidities and Fixities.  This is a conference jointly organized by UBC and NUS students working in migration studies.

There was a stellar lineup of keynote speakers, which include Adrian Bailey (Hong Kong Baptist University/Leeds University), Elspeth Graham (University of St. Andrews), Rhacel Salazar Parreñas (University of Southern California), and Dan Hiebert (UBC).

I was part of a paper session on Transnational Identities and Subjectivities, chaired by Tracey Skelton (NUS) and responded to by Rhacel Parrenas.  I presented a paper entitled ‘A Minority Challenging Multiculturalism: The Social Conservatism of Cantonese-speaking Evangelical Christians in Metro Vancouver.’  Here’s the abstract:

Studies of transnationality in the Asia-Pacific region have recently focused on migration through a given social field over the lifecourse, some nodes centred on education, others on work (Waters 2002; Ley and Kobayashi 2005; Preston et al 2006; Waters 2006; Ley 2010; Lin 2011). While such approaches rightly highlight these migrants’ ties to their places of origin, they seldom explore their commitments to their new destination nation-states. Using qualitative data collected from 40 key informant interviews and four focus groups in Metro Vancouver, this paper demonstrates that one particular, influential migrant group in Vancouver—migrants from Hong Kong who are of evangelical Christian faith—are in fact more committed to Canada than Hong Kong. However, their involvement in Canadian civil society, far from celebrating Canada’s multicultural policy, has sought to challenge multiculturalism on the grounds that their rights of religious freedoms and parental choices in their children’s education have been overshadowed by agendas concerning gender and sexuality. Such political voices have included journalistic postings in English- and Chinese-language media in Vancouver, activist organisations, and the success of Cantonese-speaking evangelical Christian candidates for the Conservative Party in federal elections. Given such a wide range of political participation, I argue that the social conservatism of Hongkonger evangelicals, while contextualised by a transnational social field, signifies an attempted integration into Canadian civil society by challenging the state’s multicultural policy. This paper advances discussions of fixities and fluidities in Asia-Pacific migrations by outlining the development of a socio-political agenda by transnational migrants for their destination countries, not only their places of origin.

For more information about the conference, please see the Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion website. We hope to have the fifth installment at UBC Vancouver.

Association of American Geographers 2011 (Seattle, WA)

A few updates on the sessions in this Association of American Geographers in Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center and the Sheraton.

Betsy Olson, Claire Dwyer, and I co-organized a session on Wednesday, 13 April 2011, at 10 AM entitled Religion and transnationalism/Traveling faith (#2244).  This paper featured paper presentations by Murat Es, Abby Day, Ben Kogaly, Sharon Suh, and Patricia Ehrkamp.  Claire Dwyer, David Ley, and I also gave our presentation on Richmond’s “Highway to Heaven”:

While geographers have written much about the varying dimensions of transnational urbanism (Ley 2004, MP Smith 2001, Mitchell 2004) religious transnationalism remains under explored despite the establishment of many new spectacular religious buildings in diaspora cities in the last decade and evidence of the continuing significance of religious practice for many migrants (Levitt 2007, Tweed 2002). In this paper we draw on recent empirical work in the multicultural suburb of Richmond, Vancouver to explore the complex geographies of a transnational suburban religious landscape. Along the Number 5 Road, on the eastern boundary of the city and adjacent to the major 99 highway, more than twenty religious buildings including mosques, churches, religious schools, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples are clustered within 3 kilometres. This suburban religious landscape has been produced by the complex intersection of suburban planning regulations, municipal multiculturalism and the transnational activities of a range of different diasporic faith communities living in greater Vancouver and beyond. Our paper traces the processes by which this landscape has been produced and raises some questions about the possible outcomes of planning for religious and cultural diversity and the varying trajectories of religious transnationalism.

I am also giving a paper on Thursday, 14 April 2011, at 10 AM in the Issues in Ethnic Geography II (#3220) session.  Here is the paper abstract:

Until recently, ethnic, religious, and ethno-religious spaces in North America have been assumed to be apolitical.  Urban ethnic centres (such as Chinatowns), ethnoburbs (such as Richmond in Metro Vancouver), and ethnic churches and temples have often been seen as sites where migrant cultures to North America have been preserved; indeed, the only politics in which they are involved may be anti-segregation and anti-racism protests.  However, Cantonese Christians have not been apolitical.  In 2008, Cantonese Christians successfully campaigned for the election of a Conservative Member of Parliament in Richmond, British Columbia; a parallel in the San Francisco Bay Area was an alliance of Chinese evangelicals with the larger evangelical movement to pass Proposition 8 to ban same-sex unions.  Such a trend has also been noticed by Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, running a front-page article on immigrants and the conservative vote.  In this presentation, I propose a working approach to such migrant religious communities that takes into account their politics.  We must ask: what are the civic imaginations and practices of Cantonese Christians who are said to vote conservative?  This paper grounds this question in Vancouver and San Francisco as the starting point of a new line of inquiry into the political agency of communities formerly thought to be ethnic enclaves running parallel religious lives in North America.  It is the hope of this paper to initiate a new approach to immigrant and ethnic geographies from which empirical data can be collected.

Finally, in the usual great run-up of speakers for the Geography of Religion and Belief Systems Annual Lecture, Claire Dwyer will be giving this year’s lecture (#4258):

Encountering the Divine in W5 and Highway 99: stories of the suburban sacred
This lecture reflects on my on-going collaborative research on suburban faith spaces in London and Vancouver to explore the significance of everyday geographies of religion.  Recent research on suburban faith spaces offers both into a reinterpretation of the assumed secularism of suburban space and an analysis of the transnational and postcolonial connections shaping suburban geographies. Through this analysis of suburban faith spaces I develop two broader arguments about the geographies of religions and belief systems. First, I ask what geographies of religion have to offer to wider theoretical discussions within the discipline. Second, I reflect on the  possibilities and challenges of accessing the suburban sacred as part of a wider reflection on geographies of encounter and enchantment.

Making a Cantonese-Christian Family: Quotidian Habits of Language and Background in a Transnational Hongkonger Church (Population, Space, and Place)

My first article is finally out in press.

It is entitled ‘Making a Cantonese-Christian family: quotidian habits of language and background in a transnational Hongkonger church.’ It is part of a special issue of Population, Space, and Place: A Journal of Population Geography on Migration and Everyday Matters: Materiality and Sociality.  Edited by Elaine Ho (Leeds) and Madeleine Hatfield (Royal Holloway, University of London), this issue represents an approach to geographies of migration from the ground up.  We investigate everyday lives and quotidian geographies: how is space materially and socially created by people who have moved from one place to another?

My contribution tackles geographies of everyday life in both the religious dimension and the Hong Kong-Vancouver migration network.  This is based on my MA research, which took place in a transnational Hongkonger church in Metro Vancouver I have anonymised as St. Matthew’s Church.

This paper looks at how St. Matthew’s Church became and is continually reinforced as a transnational Hongkonger church.  For the examination of everyday lives, I use the work of Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life as an heuristic, differentiating between strategies in which ordinary citizens consciously plot political resistance and tactics in which people unconsciously and unreflectively use everyday habits to prop up their lifeworlds.  As I suggest in the paper, most of what goes into making a Cantonese-Christian family are everyday habits (de Certeau’s tactics) that are often subtle, unconscious, seemingly insignificant, and unreflected upon, but which turn out to be politically constructive at the end of the day. By advancing the geography of religion, I also am working within the boundaries of new cultural geography in which James Duncan famously showed in The City as Text that geographical landscapes, networks, and spaces don’t just exist superorganically in some abstract space above us, but are in fact constructed politically over time.

Here’s the abstract:

Studies of the Hong Kong-Vancouver transnational migration network seldom pay close attention to religion in the everyday lives of Hongkonger migrants. Based on 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork at St. Matthew’s Church, a Hong Kong church in Metro Vancouver, this paper examines the tacit assumptions and taken-for-granted quotidian practices through which a Hongkonger church is made. I argue that St. Matthew’s Church has been constructed as a Hong Kong Cantonese-Christian family space through the everyday use of language and invocations of a common educational background. This argument extends the literature on Hongkonger migration to Metro Vancouver by grounding it in a religious site whose intersections with Hong Kong migration to Vancouver consolidates the church as a religious mission with a specifically Hongkonger migration narrative. This consolidation is problematised as I show that contestations in church life by migrants from the People’s Republic of China over language and asymmetrical educational backgrounds both reinforce and challenge the church as a Hongkonger congregation. Through an examination of these everyday interactions at St. Matthew’s Church, this paper advances the geography of religion as I demonstrate that specific geographical narratives and networks shape quotidian practices in religious sites.

The paper is available on Wiley-Blackwell’s Early View.  Inquiries regarding the paper can be directed to: jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca or tse.justo@gmail.com.

AAG 2011: Traveling Faith

Call for papers
AAG Annual Meeting: Seattle, April 2011:
Religion and Transnationalism/ Travelling faith: exploring the intersections of religion and migration

Session organizers: Betsy Olson (University of Edinburgh), Claire Dwyer (University College London) and Justin Tse (University of British Columbia)

This session provides an opportunity to explore the diverse intersections between religion and migration, and the geographies that are produced from this intersection. Within this session we hope to explore the ways in which religious practices and faith identities, practices, and organizations travel with migrants and shape their experiences of transnational lives, or how new religious engagements may be produced through the migration experience. We are also interested in how faith travels and the ways in which religious organisations and institutions are incorporated into or shape migration trajectories and flows.

The session seeks to build upon an ongoing conversation about the new geographies of religion in everyday and exceptional experiences of mobility.  Papers might address intersections of religion with other social and cultural processes in migrant lives; purposeful faith-based migration for proselytization or religious freedom; the technologies and networks of travelling faith; or the role of religion in leaving and arriving ‘home’.  Please email abstracts of 150-200 words to Betsy Olson (elizabeth.olson@ed.ac.uk) by 13 October.

Further information about the conference can be found on the AAG website:
http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/call_for_papers