The New York Times had what I thought was an interesting article by Dan Bilefsky about Vancouver, BC within the past week. It’s about a phenomenon I have been aware of for about 25 years and have seen unfolding every time I have visited Vancouver, the so-called ideal city in Western Canada. It’s about one of those less-than-ideal situations that sounds like a problem solver but leads to trouble over time, Astronaut Fathers.
When Great Britain announced that it was turning Hong Kong over to China by 1997, many Chinese men with families in Hong Kong and Taiwan began moving their wives and children to this Canadian city while continuing to work in Asia. They feared that Communist China would negatively impact their city’s entrepreneurial spirit after the transition. Because they spent so much time in airplanes going to Vancouver on weekends and such, they became known as astronaut fathers and their wives, who felt responsible to raise children alone in a culturally alien environment, became known as astronaut wives.
These parents were attracted to Vancouver’s schools and easily gotten passports for family members. They had plenty of money and began transforming the social atmosphere of this Canadian city by buying up property. This eventually made Vancouver one of the most unaffordable cities in North America. Ruth and I noticed that the area from downtown to the international airport was transitioning to an urban Chinatown with many signs in Chinese and shops catering to their needs. The article points out that many Chinese families bought property in Richmond, a city near the airport. A couple of generations later the astronaut children of these astronaut parents are feeling more Canadian than Chinese. They have been spoiled, defy parental authority, and feel the loss of family intimacy.
BC authorities fought back by increasing taxes on foreign homeowners, but the wealth of the immigrants mitigated that. But then the coronavirus struck. There are 659 confirmed cases in BC and 14 deaths in one care center with 9 senior centers affected by the virus. The situation is fomenting discriminatory behavior aimed at the Chinese immigrants while making commuting far more problematical for them. Race, class, and income inequality could tear Vancouver apart.