It’s no secret to anybody that Richmond is heavily populated by immigrants. In fact, Richmond has the highest immigrant population in Canada with 60%. Many of these immigrants are of Asian descent; Richmond has the highest proportion of Asians of any city in North America. None of this is news, and it is all very quickly apparent to anybody walking around in the city. Immigration has been a huge part of the development of our great nation, and we as a country pride ourselves on being inclusive to other cultures. I’m completely in favour of that ideal, but only to a point. When it gets to the point where Canadian culture is being replaced entirely, that’s not right.
In 2006, 8.8% of the Richmond population had no knowledge of either English or French, Canada’s official languages. Despite multiple resources being available for new immigrants to take ESL courses, that percentage has actually gone up in recent years, and now 10.4% of Richmond citizens cannot speak either official language.
That’s right. One in ten people cannot speak either English or French. Take a moment and let that sink in.
I sympathize with people coming to this country and having difficulty learning the customs and language. I moved to Vancouver from Ontario and that in itself was a difficult transition to make, I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to move to a new country. The difference there? If I ever DID move to new country, I would never expect them to accomodate my needs by posting signs only in my main language in place of the main language(s) of their country. Richmond does just this however, and there are many examples of signs that are printed without any English present whatsoever.
Some places, such as the Aberdeen Centre, have policies in place to print signs in both English and a foreign language, but English has to be the largest text on the sign. It’s a similar policy taken in Quebec where both English and French have to be on signs, but the French often has to be larger. By making the signs bilingual it ensures that everyone is comfortable, but it also maintains Canadian culture above all else.
I understand the temptation to put up unilingual signs in areas dominated by one nationality as many parts of Richmond are, but in the long run this provides a major disservice to the residents, particularly those that speak either very little or no English. Initially they may offer a sense of family and security, softening the impact of culture shock, but this does not last. There is a huge risk of these people not being able to fully integrate into mainstream Canada if they never receive the motivation to learn our language. They’ll do fine in their little enclaves, but how are they supposed to grow beyond that?
Again, I am fully in favour of immigration and I sympathize with the challenges that these people face upon arriving in our country, but that is no excuse. If you move to this country, make an effort to learn at least one of our official languages. Don’t rely on people in your neighbourhood speaking the same foreign language as you. Not only would this be a great step towards inter-cultural harmony, but it would show some appreciation for being a citizen (or resident) of our great country.