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Note: Co-written with Bernadette Redila and Julie Vanleeuwen
This study assess how new immigrants to the Greater Vancouver area seek means of belonging, how they are able to negotiate a sense of home, and what factors may hinder this process. Focus groups and surveys are used to understand the complexities of negotiating a sense of home in the Greater Vancouver area for immigrants. Our research suggests that language and familial ties are influential in shaping conceptions of home for immigrants. This paper seeks to apply its findings to strengthen the already existing community programs directed at immigrants and create opportunities for new long-term resources to help create these feelings of home. In this respect, this paper acts as a vital and practical tool in raising awareness about the importance of creating a welcoming and hospitable community for all residents of the Greater Vancouver area, especially for the large immigrant population.
Key terms: Home, Immigrant, Greater Vancouver Regional District
“I hate holidays…for holidays I have nothing to do, I have no relatives here and I miss my parents and I miss my friends in China.” – Sarah
One of our focus group participant, Sarah, best describes the strong feelings of longing that home, as understood as a connection to family and friends, evokes. A common theme throughout this paper is the negotiation of home through relationships between family and friends, and the role that language plays in making this process easier or more difficult.
Magat (1999) acknowledges the vastly broad definitions that exist of the term home, but conceptually defines home as one with inherent symbolic meanings of identity and belonging. Arredondo (1984) defines a sense of belonging as feeling positive about oneself, to feeling trust and positive regard from and for others, as well as to making a commitment to stay in the country of destination (Chow, 2007). For the purpose of our study, the term “home” is not defined as a physical entity or building, but rather a symbolic term that is defined by the feelings of belonging, familiarity, identity and sense of permanent residence. The need to belong is considered a fundamental human motivation. Regardless of their motivations for migration, immigrants may feel out of place initially. Whether or not immigrants will proclaim that they feel they belong is intricately linked to their lived experiences in the host country. This dimension of belonging may be more aptly measured by immigrants’ interests in the affairs of the Canadian society, frequency of participation in various institutions, and degree of identification with Canada (Chow, 2007).
As members within the Greater Vancouver community, we look for ways in which we can we use our cultural differences as a pillar of strength for the broader community. How can we make the most of our cultural richness and diversity in the Greater Vancouver area? Addressing the unique demographic landscape of the Greater Vancouver region, this paper focuses on: what processes exist that may enable or hinder the ability for immigrants to feel a sense of home in the Greater Vancouver area? In investigating the existing barriers and opportunities to create a sense of home for both new and current immigrants, we hope to apply our research findings to strengthen current inclusionary efforts in our communities targeted towards immigrants.
We aim to understand existing processes that may hinder or enable immigrants to feel at home, and want to define the different areas that comprise the feeling of home for immigrants in their host country. Furthermore, we sought to define the cultural and symbolic understanding of feeling home and how that would be applicable in the integration processes targeted towards new immigrants in the Greater Vancouver area. To do so we conducted focus groups with a sample of our target population. Our focus groups sought to uncover in-depth ways individuals seek to integrate, and if it resulted in feelings of belonging and a sense of home. In addition, the focus groups prompted participants to explore obstacles and hindrances that they have faced since moving to the Greater Vancouver area, and how those have affected their sense of belonging. Once the focus groups were completed we analyzed the results obtained to form our survey questionnaire. These surveys were handed out to students at SFU, and to immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver area.
Raffaeta & Duff (2013) as well as Chaitlin, Linstroth & Hiller (2009) study the processes which hinder the ability of immigrants to negotiate a sense of home in specific cities and communities. Both studies focused on the economic reasons and possibilities for both leaving their country of origin and staying in the new country. Chaitlin et. al (2009) outline the notion of “partial homes” which appears dominant in Raffaeta et al’s (2013) study as well. The idea of a “partial home” acts as a hindering process to creating a sense of home for these immigrants. Similarly, Ben-Yoseph (2005) concludes that the relationship an individual has with their country of origin effects that individuals ability to make a new sense of home in another country. The notion of transnationalism, where migrants maintain homes in their origin country and a host country, has also been studied as a process which can hinder the cultural and social integration of immigrants.
Aside from symbolic or physical ties to one’s country of origin, current research also ties economic well-being to the ability to create a sense of home for immigrants. Stewart et al (2009) compares the experiences of social isolation and perceptions of belonging between lower-income and higher-income people. The results indicated that the level of income was a reliable indicator of measures of social isolation and sense of belonging in a community. Nawyn et al’s (2012) study states that linguistic resources are a key component of immigrant integration, because speaking the dominant language provides not only economic opportunities but also gives the immigrant social power.
A significant body of research has been conducted on developing an understanding of what factors assist in creating a sense of belonging. Chow’s (2007) survey results showed that a presence of father in Canada, higher self-rated socio economic status, immigration to Canada being politically and culturally motivated, positive experiences making friends with Canadians, immigration to Canada at a later stage in life, and no prior experience in Canada before immigration were associated with a stronger sense of belonging to Canada. Furthermore, Chow’s (2007) study indicated that if immigrants had a positive academic experience, had absence of discrimination, and immigration to Canada being non-economically motivated then they had a higher level of life satisfaction.
Similar to Chow’s (2007) work, rather than focusing on singular processes that hinder or enable the feelings of home, our research aims to tease out a multitude of factors that exist. While it is beneficial to gather general conclusions from existing academic research, it’s important to note the varying degrees of cultural, social and economic differences that exist from city to city and country to country. A large body of current literature focuses on specific countries and cities, and the ability of immigrants to negotiate a sense of home and integrate in those places. It would be presumptuous to say that findings from Raffaeta et. al (2013) study in the Italian Alpine area could be presumed true in the Greater Vancouver area as well.
As one of the most demographically diverse urban populations in Canada, the Greater Vancouver area has surprisingly not been a focus for migratory and ethnic research. The void our research seeks to fill is specifically focused on immigrants negotiating a sense of home and belonging in the Greater Vancouver area. Moreover, this research acts as a practical tool for inclusionary efforts in the area. In order to contribute valuable and practical information to inclusionary processes in our communities, we need to take into account the specific context of the Greater Vancouver area.
Two focus groups were conducted with recent and established immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver area. The first focus group contained eight participants aged 18-30, and the second focus group had twelve individuals 30 and older. We chose this demographic in attempt to uncover a greater variety of factors that attribute to the feeling of home at various life stages of young adults. In order to generalize our results towards our target population, which is all immigrants living in the greater Vancouver area, it was necessary to not constrict the age range, or the duration of their time spent in Vancouver. The focus groups investigations concentrated on four main questions: how would you describe the feeling of home, what were the reasons behind why you moved to Vancouver, what processes enable you to feel at home, and what factors hinder the ability for you to feel at home. Our sub questions were largely driven from the responses given by our participants to get more clarity on their views, opinions and experiences.
Stemming from our focus group findings, we designed survey questions based on the areas of concern mentioned in the previous focus groups. A twenty-question survey was disseminated to participants all over the Greater Vancouver area through social media platforms. Here, our target survey participants were people who identified as immigrants, aged 18 and older, who live in the Greater Vancouver area. We received a total of 102 responses and conducted further analysis on the data we received.
FINDINGS AND RESULTS
Upon analyzing the responses from the focus groups, we identified four dominant themes. These include: Family and friends, economic stability and educational opportunities, different cultural norms and expectations, and language. We will examine each theme sequentially.
Focus Group Findings
Theme 1: Family and friends create a sense of home for immigrants
Although the participants in our study migrated from different areas, and had varying lengths of duration living in Vancouver, they all agreed on a few essential factors that generated a feeling of home. For instance, when the participants migrated with family members they felt substantially more comfortable than those who migrated on their own, or who left family members in their country of origin. One member in our focus group, Sarah, explained it in terms of an idiom they use in China that roughly translates to, “where ever your parents are is where your home is.” For those who had family members in their country of origin they expressed a feeling of loneliness; however, for those who came with at least their immediate family felt more inclined to say Vancouver was their home.
The participants that moved here on their own, particularly the members within the first focus group, said that they frequently talked to their family members who remained in their country of origin. The ability to be able to call them, or talk to them over the Internet, was seen as a beneficial feature contributing to developing a sense of comfortability in Vancouver. Carol explained that, “for me I would think home as something that means that you need to have the support from your family, regardless of their geographical location. My parents are still in China. So I would say support and communication. And then the love, you can feel from them.” Other participants reiterated this point by saying that they talk to their family members frequently, even those who have been here for a longer duration. Interestingly, it was not the technological aspect that made it difficult to communicate with their family and friends in their countries of origin but the new cultural barrier. For example, Carol said, “I had a hard time communicating with my mother for a short period of time, but then I think I overcame that barrier because I tried to explain the differences between what it is like in Canada and what it is like in China. And then they tried to understand the differences and they appreciated the differences as well.” The ability for our participants to be able to easily communicate with their families residing in their countries of origin assisted them in feeling more comfortable in Vancouver.
Another key aspect for an immigrant to feel a sense of belonging is whether or not they have a strong support group of friends in their host city. Many of the participants in our focus groups agreed that it was fairly difficult to make friends when they first arrived. Although they said Canadians were friendly, they mentioned that it was difficult to tell which people were simply being superficial. One participant shared her experience of living in an apartment building when she first arrived and said it was easier to connect with neighbours that way. However, when she moved into a house she felt a higher degree of disconnection and isolation. Another participant, Emma, compared how welcoming her community is in her country of origin, and explained to us that if we were to migrate there everyone in the neighbourhood would invite us to dinner and show us around. Conversely, Emma said here “in Canada there’s too much distance for me. Like if you want to go ask [your neighbour] it feels like you’re wasting their time, they have other things to do.” This conception creates a sense of uncertainty and isolation among immigrants. Furthermore, the participants in the focus group illustrated how important it is for them to feel connected within their new community, because if they feel accepted by their neighbours than they can use them as source of information. For example, one participant, Emma shared that her friend received a fishing ticket and they were unsure how to pay it. Emma said, “for simple things like that we don’t know who to ask, and you have to Google [instead of asking your neighbour].” The importance of having friends and family members present in Vancouver was reiterated in various ways but appeared to be the most collectively agreed upon factor for feeling at home.
Theme 2: Economic stability, educational opportunities, political stability and environmental factors are influential in enabling a sense of home for immigrants.
A common response from our participants was that one spouse, or parent, would remain in the country of origin to work while the other spouse and children lived in Vancouver. Similar to Raffaeta et al’s (2013) idea of a “partial home,” this separation acts as a hindering process to creating a sense of home for these immigrants. For many of the participants, they found it difficult to secure jobs in Vancouver. For many of these families, a spouse would live in another country to work and support the family because of the difficulties of gaining economic stability in a new country. In our second focus group, many of the participants acknowledged that in their country of origin, they were all employed, some as doctors and some as business professionals. However, they mentioned that they don’t work in Vancouver because of the difficulties that exist for immigrants in the job search process. Therefore, in order to sustain themselves and their families financial needs, they must make decisions like having one parent work in another country and the other parent raising their children in another.
Many of the focus group participants divulged that they originally moved here for a ‘better’ education, whether it was for themselves or for their children. However, most of our parent participants said that they would prefer their child to go to a university back in their original country. One respondent, Carol, said that, “ I think we immigrants have fewer social connections. If we need to look for a job we just need to do what we can do, but for local people they may have more family and friends that can help them in looking for jobs.” A few mentioned that because their social net is larger in their original country they would be able to assist in finding their children careers, as opposed to their smaller connections here. However, the alumni and university students mentioned that once they received their degrees they felt more connected here and wanted to remain in Vancouver to find a job. One participant, Sally, said that because her Vancouver friends, many that were also immigrants, found jobs here which made her want to stay as well. Another said that after she got her degree and secured a job she started to find that she felt a stronger sense of belonging, and was getting use to Canadian norms and customs.
Political and environmental issues also arose as contributing factors for migrating to Vancouver. One participant, Sam, mentioned that he and his family relocated to Vancouver because of the political turmoil in China in 1997. Sam believed that, “we didn’t have enough freedom of speech. [The government was] trimming down the freedom of speech in the media.” It was constricting policy’s such as this that motivated Sam and his family to move to Vancouver. Similarly, Remy, disclosed that her family moved to Vancouver to evade the one-child policy in China, because they wanted a bigger family. Another participant, Jessica, explained her situation in Japan. She said that the “Japanese government hides everything”, and that no one in Japan can oppose the system. So, she believed that Vancouver was a better place for her children to grow up because it would allow them to have more political freedom. Another respondent, Carol, reinforced this notion of political stability in Vancouver by saying, “the [Canadian] government they don’t hide too much from you, from the public, and I think the process is more transparent and the tax dollars is used more fairly towards the taxpayers. In China there’s so much corruption going on.”
Furthermore, the participants expressed their admiration for Vancouver’s natural environment. Participants explained that the air pollution in their countries of origin were becoming increasingly hazardous. Jessica explained how her friend’s children in Japan are developing asthma as a result of the air pollution. She also mentioned how her son had a rash and a serious cough while in Japan but since moving to Vancouver it has disappeared. Most of the other participants in the focus groups agreed that political stability and environmental factors were reasons towards why they chose, and remained, in Vancouver.
Theme 3: Different cultural norms and expectations created feelings of being outsiders, but also allowed for feelings of belonging.
An obstacle expressed by the participants in our study was the misunderstanding of Canadian cultural norms and expectations. Many of the immigrants that moved here with younger children experienced discomfort because they were unsure of the materials their children were being taught in school. One participant, Maia, said, “We have different culture, I’m from China so it’s a little different. There’s a culture gap. My children live here so they think differently than me.” Another factor expressed by immigrants with young children was that they were unsure of acceptable behaviour to teach to their children. For example, Emma illustrated this point:
“My kid is in grade six he’s have been bullied for a while, but I teach him that always smile because you can forget and try to walk away and he did exactly like that. But to the teacher that’s rude, if the teacher corrects, or asks him to go outside of classroom for 5 minutes he is still smiling, and the teacher thinks it’s rude. He’s trying to put down his feeling and embarrassment but that is something that I’ve learned. So that sort of thing when my kid comes to me I will say that your teacher is weird, I will say something like that. It’s all kinds of strange things, maybe there’s a website for immigrants of daily life taboos and maybe it’s good for me.”
This disconnect between immigrant parents and their children causes discomfort and a desire to return back to their country of origin where they understand the cultural norms.
Another obstacle expressed from the cultural gap was the uncertainty of knowing certain cultural norms, such as humor. A few student participants mentioned that in lectures when the professor told a ‘joke’ all the Canadian born students would laugh but the immigrants did not. This cultural division made them feel like an outsider.
In addition, a cultural difference that was highlighted was the slower tempo of life in Vancouver compared to some of the respondents country of origin. For example, Melissa from Korea explained how her friend went to the hospital here “but she just waiting, waiting, waiting…why do they need a very long time to give just one prescription. Those times make me very uneasy and make me go back to Korea.” Melissa, and other immigrants in our study, expressed a dislike for the ‘slow’ pace in Vancouver.
Another cultural expectation that made immigrants feel hesitant and isolated was Canadian medical care system. Respondents expressed a feeling of reluctance towards using Canadian healthcare because they were uncertain of when it was acceptable to go to the hospital, and what was covered. One respondent, Melissa, outlined an experience when her son developed a bad flu, but she was hesitant to visit the doctor. She thought, “ -it is not serious so I just cure with my natural medication what I know in Korea.” The participants said they were unsure of when it was appropriate to go to the hospital, so this left them feeling vulnerable.
Ultimately, the respondents agreed that to have a sense of belonging in Vancouver it was necessary to understand some cultural difference and have access to information. One respondent, Emma, captured this point saying, “I have to feel that I know a lot of things, I know the school system, and I know where I can get help, and I know where I can work, and I know the organizations that can help me. I have to have connections with the society.” These connections can help reduce the degree of uncertainty and discomfort, because with access to information and organizations they can learn cultural norms and expectations.
Conversely, certain cultural differences have made Vancouver immigrants feel more at home. Many participants agreed that locals in in Vancouver are very friendly and polite. One respondent, Stephanie, explained her experience on the buses in Vancouver:
“I usually take the bus here and I saw every people’s behaviours are very good. Everyone will say thank you and the bus driver will say you’re welcome. And when I hear these things every day I feel it’s different than in my country and when I go on the street on the snow or rainy day at the bus stop people will say you first ,oh no you first. Small things for me I feel very warm, very tiny small things I feel so good.”
Others agreed that these were strange cultural customs compared to their country of origin, but that it was small things, such as this, that made them feel more welcomed. Another cultural expectation that made our respondents admire Vancouver was “that people respect life here as a high quality”. For example, Julia mentioned how “whenever there is a firetruck on the road everyone will move aside for it, and let the road clear for the saving of the life. All these tiny things. It’s very different.”
Theme 4: Language acts as a barrier to opportunities and to creating a sense of home
The language barrier for those who speak English as an additional language, is viewed as the utmost obstacle immigrants face while they are attempting to develop a sense of belonging in Vancouver. Among immigrants, English is often an additional language, which leaves them feeling a lack of confidence when interacting with locals. Most of our participants said this barrier made them feel isolated, and often they would not participate in community activities, or develop relationships with locals. One participant, Lena, shared that while she was in grade nine “the people around [her] were so rude. They treated [her] like, you don’t know our language. It’s like, it’s our language, it’s not yours.” Other respondents indicated that due to their lack of confidence when speaking English it was difficult to obtain a job. One respondent, Carol, said that the interview process was very complicated because “English is our second language and it’s difficult for us to express our thoughts and opinions and feel confident representing yourself.” Another participant expressed her lack of confidence due to the language barrier because in China she was a businesswoman and was always busy but here she has not been unable to obtain a job. Language played the biggest role in determining whether or not the immigrants in our study felt accepted and that they belonged in Vancouver. However, once their English skills strengthened they felt exceptionally more confident and were able to develop better connections that helped them receive vital information, such as medical care, or community organizations.
We designed the survey based on the results we obtained from our two focus groups. The survey was comprised of twenty questions, including three yes-or-no questions, and 17 multiple choice questions. The survey was conducted with the aim to uncover the relationship between factors of home described in our focus groups, such as language barriers, the amount of time living in Vancouver, friendship and neighborhood, jobs and career opportunity, as well as media consumption patterns, and the extent of immigrant’s feeling of belonging in Vancouver. 102 participants took part in the survey. 56.9% of all survey respondents felt very strongly that Vancouver was their home. 28.4% of respondents felt that Vancouver is somewhat their home and 7.8% of all respondents felt as if Vancouver was not really their home, or not their home at all. The data provided from the respondents demonstrated a relationship between ties immigrants have with family and friends, language, job opportunities, media consumption and feelings of belonging.
Of the respondents that felt as if Vancouver was very much their home, 79.3% of those respondents had lived in Vancouver for 10 or more years. The respondents who felt strongly that Vancouver was home for them, 83.9% migrated with friends or family members and 57.9% of them cited family or friends as their reasons for migration. These numbers demonstrate how relationships with family and/or friends has an impact on negotiating a sense of home for immigrants in the Greater Vancouver area. For those who feel Vancouver is their home, friends and family are a large influence of feelings of belonging. Similar to the theme uncovered in our focus groups, the location of family and friends and the relationships ties between family/friends and immigrants deeply affects the negotiation of home in a new city.
Similarly, another factor that influenced the respondents degree of belonging in Vancouver was their ability to make friends with both locals and other immigrants currently living in the Greater Vancouver area. 42.1% of respondents who felt strongly that Vancouver was their home, found it somewhat easy to make friends with people already living in Vancouver. 26.3% of these respondents felt that it was very easy in making friends in Vancouver. The ability to have and make friends in a new city or country is critical for immigrants to create feelings of belonging and negotiate a sense of home for themselves. It is also beneficial to have a friend or a relative when first arriving in Vancouver. Among the respondents who felt “very much” and “somewhat” that Vancouver as their home, over 40% of them had a relative or friend already residing in Vancouver at the time of their migration.
In terms of analyzing the influence of language amongst the respondents that felt strongly that Vancouver was home for them, it’s interesting to see the relationship between language and feelings of belong and home. 69% of these respondents evaluated their English speaking abilities as fluent; however, 42.1% of these respondents admitted to always speaking their mother language. There is a visible link between language and creating a feeling of home. Overall, a large portion of respondents felt as if language was a barrier to creating a feeling of home in the Greater Vancouver area. Amongst the respondents that noted English as an additional language, more than 47.5% of them agreed that language was a major barrier in creating a sense of home. At the same time, although living in an English speaking city, 67.3% of the respondent still practice their mother language quite often.
It is noteworthy that people who attributed education as a reason for migration were more likely to feel as if Vancouver was not their home. Among the respondents who chose Vancouver is “not at all” their home and “not really” their home, 75% of them came chose education as at least one of the reason they came to Vancouver. For these respondents, Vancouver was not a permanent home, but rather a temporary place of residence. Individuals who migrated for education and who felt as if Vancouver was not their home, also felt that it was difficult to build a network in Vancouver. These immigrants reported that they had a stronger connection with friends and family in their countries of origin. Among these respondents, 75% often communicate with people living in their country of origin. These participants demonstrated strong ties to their country of origin, and a lack of relationship ties to people in Vancouver. This reinforces the idea that the relationships between family and friends largely influences the feelings of home for immigrants.
After recording the focus groups and survey results, it was evident that despite a largely multicultural demographic, there are still many immigrants who have difficulties integrating and creating feelings of home in the Greater Vancouver area. In the second focus group that contained twelve participants aged 30 and older we found that they were all members of a community centre program that aims to assist immigrants by helping them make a sense of home in Vancouver. Some of the participants are long-term volunteers in these community centres, yet the majority of program participants had been in Vancouver for a comparatively short time and had recently joined the program itself. Therefore, these community centres are mainly aiming to help new immigrants, but the assistance is short-term only. Although many participants stated that the community centres they were attending, as well as other integration programs, had been very helpful to them, it is more important to have some long-term integration programs that can help immigrants for numerous years post-migration.
At the same time, the strengths of current and existing inclusionary programs is also of particular concern. Among the participants in the two focus groups, we noticed that younger immigrants in the first focus group did not seek help when they faced difficulties in acculturating or creating a new sense of a home in Vancouver. Conversely, the immigrants in the second focus group joined the community centre activity almost immediately upon arrival mostly because of their children, as the community centre is located next to an elementary school and does a lot of outreach to the community through the elementary school. The strength of promoting available programs for immigrants is inadequate, as well as the strength of helping the immigrants.
Many of the participants in our focus groups mentioned that it was difficult to make friends with Canadian locals because of a degree of superficiality, where they feel as if their community and neighbours were somewhat welcoming. This can hinder their ability to call Vancouver their home. Our survey results supported this notion showing that more than 50% of the total respondents feel that their neighbours and communities are “somewhat” welcoming whereas 24.8% of respondents felt neighbors and their community were “very welcoming” and 10.9% felt that they were “not really” welcoming. The idea is that immigrants did not feel entirely welcomed by their neighbors and broader community.
From our research we can conclude that language, and the relationships between family and friends act as both enablers and hindrances to creating feelings of home within the Greater Vancouver area for immigrants. For many immigrants with English as an additional language, the inability to communicate their feelings or opinions thoroughly and precisely created numerous obstacles for them to feel at home in Vancouver. The difficulties of communicating often resulted in numerous social and economic costs and setbacks for immigrants.On the other hand, participants acknowledge that the relationship ties to family members and friends can either enable or create obstacles to feeling at home. A large number of focus group and survey participants migrated to the Greater Vancouver area with family members, or already had family members or friends living here. There was a significant relationship between having friends and family in Vancouver and feeling that Vancouver was the participant’s home. These exploratory findings open up the door to more specific research in the Greater Vancouver area. For example, through our focus groups, we discovered an area of concern for immigrant parents where they feel a sense of disconnect with their children who have and continue to grow up in a culture and society very different from their country of origin. Therefore, these parents not only feel a sense of disconnect with their place in Vancouver, but also a cultural gap between themselves and their children.
Our study is both important and relevant to the current demographics of the Greater Vancouver area. The understanding and acknowledgement of obstacles and enablers that exist to creating a sense of home for the large immigrant population can benefit the economic, social and cultural situation of the Vancouver area. For many immigrants, a reason for migration is the educational opportunities that exist here. However, many immigrants express the desire to gain an education in the Greater Vancouver area, but eventually find further economic resources in other cities or countries. The Greater Vancouver area can reap substantial benefits from updating and implementing stronger short-term inclusionary programs, as well as initiating and providing long-term programs. The feedback we received from our focus groups highlighted the strengths of the existing programs directed at immigrants in the Vancouver area, such as, the North Shore Neighbourhood House’s Welcoming Neighbours Programs, the Multicultural Society, and the World in Burnaby. These programs focus on providing arenas for new immigrants to meet other immigrants, aid with language and communication barriers, and information regarding volunteering with their communities. However, the information that is not readily available through these programs are more in-depth ESL classes to help with job searches and interviews, information regarding jobs and educational opportunities, and opportunities to create more long-term friendships and relationships. Furthermore, we discovered from our participants aged 18-30 that they did not reach out to community programs when they felt isolated or vulnerable. Currently, there are programs directed towards youth, such as, Safe Teen International, the Vars/ty Initiative, and Neonology, but minimal programs directed to young adults. As one focus group member, Eric, mentioned he stayed at home for the first two years after arriving. We need to develop more inclusionary programs to fill this void and make all new immigrants feel welcome in the Greater Vancouver area.
There is a joke on the Internet which is quite popular: A father joined Facebook. His son updated his status: “Dad on FB, WTF!” Then the father saw it and commented, “What is WTF?” His son replied, “Welcome to Facebook.” (Jokideo.com, 2012)
There are two abbreviations in this joke: FB and WTF. The first abbreviation, FB, appears in the son’s status which stands for the social network Facebook; the second abbreviation, WTF, is the core of the joke. In most situations, WTF is short for “what the fuck” and it is often used to express extreme emotions such as shock or anger, which was exactly what the son was trying to express in his status initially; yet he lied to his father by saying that WTF means “welcome to Facebook” and successfully hid his initial intention in his status. The joke is funny because it is simple but effective — the son fooled his father by playing with the meaning of the abbreviation WTF. A further punch line of this joke is that the father might start using the abbreviation WTF to communicate with his Facebook friends with the meaning he was taught by his son, which would definitely cause more funny misunderstandings.
The abbreviation WTF from the previous joke was one of the abbreviations created for online communication, AKA (also known as) Internet abbreviations. Other abbreviations that we encounter frequently nowadays such as LMAO (laugh my ass off), NVM (never mind) are also Internet abbreviations. It is difficult to define the term “Internet abbreviation” as the society nowadays changes so fast (Yan, 2006); the term that was suited 20 years ago may not be proper to use in current days. People use Internet abbreviations so often that they even use Internet abbreviations in reality life as well. Internet abbreviations influence language not just on the Internet, but in offline communication as well. The abbreviated language that is a central feature of Internet communication will be part of the major impact on the future development of language that the information age will make.this joke: FB and WTF. The first abbreviation, FB, appears in the son’s status which stands for the social network Facebook; the second abbreviation, WTF, is the core of the joke. In most situations, WTF is short for “what the fuck” and it is often used to express extreme emotions such as shock or anger, which was exactly what the son was trying to express in his status initially; yet he lied to his father by saying that WTF means “welcome to Facebook” and successfully hid his initial intention in his status. The joke is funny because it is simple but effective — the son fooled his father by playing with the meaning of the abbreviation WTF. A further punch line of this joke is that the father might start using the abbreviation WTF to communicate with his Facebook friends with the meaning he was taught by his son, which would definitely cause more funny misunderstandings.
What is Abbreviation?
According to Dictionary.com, an abbreviation is “a shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase, used to represent the whole” (Dictionary.com, 2013). Abbreviations can have many different forms. The most popular form is a capitalized letter combination of the first letter in every word of the phrase; for example, we use SFU to represent Simon Fraser University, and HIV means “human immunodeficiency virus”. Also, in many cases, an abbreviation of a single word is the first couple of letters of the word with the first letter capitalized, following with a period at the end of the abbreviation. This kind of abbreviation is usually used for titles such as Prof., which is short for professor, and Mr., which means mister. Another common form of abbreviation is to take only one or two letters, which are not necessarily from the original word, to stand for the meaning. In this way, unit symbols such as lb (pound) and m (meter) are examples of how this type of abbreviation is created. There are a lot of other particular ways that abbreviations are formed, yet all abbreviations follow one rule: they are created to save people’s time, space and effort in textual or oral communication, and they are used in particular contexts where they are familiar. For example, MU can mean McGill University to a post-secondary student in Canada, it can mean the movie Monster University to cartoon movie lovers, and when you see MU on a sports channel, it usually stands for Manchester United, a well-known soccer club in England.
Abbreviations are used to save space and time in daily communication, both oral and textual. In oral communication, we rarely say “the United States of America”, but 99 times out of 100, we say “the USA”. In fact, the abbreviation USA is so frequently used that it has become another form of representing the country. This “distortion” of dialogue is capable of facilitating communication across cultures, so even people in non-English-speaking cultures know the meaning of the abbreviation (Peters, 1999). For instance, the abbreviation “USA” is recognized not only in the Western world, but also in non-European cultures such as China, where most people do not speak English, but nonetheless recognize the abbreviation (baidu.com, 2008). Textual abbreviations are also widely used. For example, when broadcasting sports events between two opposing teams, the broadcasting agencies usually use abbreviations of both teams’ names on the scoreboard in order to save space on the screen. Also, at conferences where name tags are provided, the titles are usually abbreviated so that the information will not look too dense on the name card.
Abbreviations have been used for many hundreds of years, but have become much more widespread since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century, and especially since the explosion of the electronic age (Beauchamp, 2001). Abbreviations have evolved from the SOS (save our ship) in the telegraph age to LOL (laugh out loud) in the Internet age. Grammar and spelling were highly valued in the study of English language, and abbreviations were only used to stand for long phrases, organizations and so on. Yet the universalization of Internet has brought an essential change to abbreviation, eventually gave birth to Internet abbreviation.
What is Internet Abbreviation?
Internet abbreviations can be defined as abbreviations created and adopted by Internet users. Despite the Internet technology having been invented as early as the 1960s, it did not start its rapid expansion until the late 1980s (Segal, 1995). In 1996, the earliest IM (Instant Messenger) software was created by a company called Mirabillis, then it was bought by American Online (AOL) in 1998 (Hansell, 1998); this software was called ICQ, which is the euphony of “I seek you”. This software enabled instant textual communication between computers and it started an era in which people could have textual communication on a brand new platform. Before ICQ was invented, instant textual communication was limited to old telegraph system and cell phone text messages, but the latter was still far too expensive for consumers to afford. The invention of ICQ not only delivered a fatal blow to the telegraph system, but also created a couple of new forms of textual communication, including Internet abbreviations.
The majority of Internet abbreviations follow the pattern of a combination of capitalized first letters of each word of a phrase. However, there are some significant differences between traditional abbreviations and Internet abbreviations. Traditional abbreviations, such as UN (United Nations) and NHL (National Hockey League), are mostly nouns, while Internet abbreviations, such as BRB (be right back) and LOL (laugh out loud), are phrases that in most cases describe an action or express an emotion. Such phrases are frequently used in Internet conversation occasions such as Instant Messengers, as well as chat rooms and online forums.
There are many platforms where Internet abbreviations can be created. Instant Messengers such as ICQ, eventually Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, are the very first batch of platforms, as well as the most significant platforms where Internet abbreviations are given birth to. Compared to other popular communication means such as making phone calls and writing letters, textual communication on Instant Messengers are much more high-tech and convenient. Many Internet abbreviations such as GTG (got to go), CU (see you) were invented to facilitate faster textual communication.
Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are also an important platform for Internet abbreviation. However, it is so much better to say that social networks are platforms to practise Internet abbreviations rather than to create them. Many social media were founded in the mid 2000’s when Internet abbreviation was almost 10 years old. The structure and contents of Internet abbreviation was rather saturated, and there was little space for social networks to create new Internet abbreviations. However, online games are the latest platforms where Internet abbreviations are created due to the special circumstances. Because of its special communication environment, Internet abbreviation in online games are more limited the game itself. For example, AFK is an Internet abbreviation used only in online games, which means “away from keyboard”; HP and MP are also two common abbreviations in many games, meaning “health point” and “magic point”.
These Internet abbreviations that evolved from Instant Messengers, social networking and gaming, became so frequently used that they spread to cell phone text messages, and eventually spread to oral conversations, especially among the young generation that grew up with computers and cellphones. Therefore, the impact of Internet abbreviations on daily language usage has been enormous (Dixon, 2011).
There are so many Internet abbreviations nowadays that they need to be categorized into several groups. Internet abbreviations can be grouped into nine categories, including greetings, relationships, mood or reaction, negative descriptions, affection, closings, disclaimers, timing, and others (Dixon, 2011). Greetings abbreviations are usually used in starting a conversation, such as HUD (How you doing?) and RUOK (Are you ok?); relationship abbreviations are BF (boyfriend), GF (girlfriend) and BFF (best friend forever), etc.; mood or reaction abbreviation includes OMG (Oh my God!), WTF (what the fuck) and so on; negative descriptions abbreviations are BS (bullshit), FOS (full of shit) and affection abbreviations are ILY (I love you) and XOXO (Hugs and kisses); TTUL (Talk to you later), CU (See you) are examples of closings abbreviations, and AFA (as far as) is the most significant disclaimer abbreviation; timing abbreviations include B4 (before). Other than all the categories listed above, there are still so many Internet abbreviations that are hard to be categorized and they can be only marked as “others”.
Internet abbreviations also serve the same purpose as the regular abbreviations: they are created to save time, space and effort; they are also used in particular contexts so they are not easy to misunderstand. For example, LOL can mean “laugh out loud” when chatting with friends, but it can mean “lots of love” when flirting with a lover, and for game lovers, LOL is “League of Legends”, the most popular online game at the moment. The ability to distinguish the different meanings of the same abbreviation is actually the ability to place a word or a term in contexts. Therefore, in the same way as regular language, Internet abbreviations also have a “structure of expectation” (Lakoff, 2000). In making a place for themselves in contemporary language, Internet abbreviations follow the traditional purposes and requirements of regular language.
For this reason, Internet abbreviations, together with Internet slang, can be considered as a language of its own, or at least a dialect or a branch of the English language (Johnston, 2004). Internet language has influenced millions of people online, and its impact has even extended to offline communication.
Internet Abbreviation in Daily Life
In 1992, the first SMS (short message service) message was sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom by an Engineer called Neil Papworth (Ahmed, 2002). Like instant messaging, text messaging was also another form of instant textual communication. Therefore, Internet abbreviations were adopted in texting in no time. People typed Internet abbreviations such as LOL, RUOK on their mobile phones and they just worked fine. This can be seen as the very first step of Internet abbreviation stepping into broader daily life. Nowadays, instant messengers, as well as social networks and online societies, are all accessible through smartphones, and Internet abbreviations are even more widely used over the phones.
Other than smartphones, some Internet abbreviations have been adopted in daily oral conversation. In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a student in Sheldon’s class uses the abbreviation KMN (kill me now) to express his dissatisfaction with Sheldon’s unpleasant way of lecturing (TheLukasNet, 2011). Although not frequently heard, people sometimes use Internet abbreviations such as OMG and LOL in their speech to emphasize their feelings (Knibbs, 2013).
Internet abbreviations are more accepted by the younger generation than by the senior generation because they have grown up in the Internet age. The majority of teenagers in the US take part in different kinds of electronic communication, and instant messaging is one of the most popular forms (Varnhagen et al, 2009). As a result, adolescents tend to create a language that includes abbreviations, new words and slang. According to the study done by Varnhagen et al, a teenager uses about 2.9 Internet abbreviations as well as more than 28 short cuts in each conversation with a peer (Varnhagen et al, 2009). The frequent usage of Internet abbreviations is creating a new language, yet destroying some traditional language at the same time by replacing it in popular use.
The frequent use of Internet abbreviations has brought convenience to daily life, but it has also created some issues in society. For example, many teachers and parents are concerned that children are unable to spell words correctly due to a constant use of abbreviated forms (Humphrey, 2003). Children are so used to typing on their cellphones and Instant Messengers that they are unable to spell words fully. For example, instead of writing “through”, many children write “thru”. This situation is not limited to English speaking countries. In China, in order to follow the instructions of the Cultural Department of China, the popular online game Jinwutuan has banned the usage of Internet language, also known in China as “Martian Language”, in order to reinforce mainstream culture and protect correct spelling (ChinaNews, 2008). According to mainstream ideology in China, the rise of Internet language will erode the traditional language forms, especially since Internet language is developing and expanding so quickly.
Trends of Internet Abbreviation
Internet abbreviations, as well as the entire Internet language, are evolving. The further development of Internet abbreviation can be predicted. First of all, the conformation of Internet abbreviation will evolve into different forms: letters are not the only characters that can be used in abbreviations; numbers and symbols will be added too. Internet abbreviation will then expand onto media platforms other than online ones, such as TV and newspapers. Last but not least, Internet abbreviation, as well as Internet language, will further impact the conventional language, will become accepted, and will initiate a revolution in language education as well.
The forms of Internet abbreviation are already changing. A combination of letters and numbers has become the new Internet abbreviation fashion. For example, “see you later” is now abbreviated to “c u l8r”, as “ate” sounds the same as “8”. Thus, Internet abbreviations will not be limited to the forms mentioned previously, but will evolve into a more complicated, yet easily understandable system of language.
Regardless whether Internet abbreviations bring convenience or cause linguistic damage to the next generation, the trend of where Internet abbreviation is going is quite clear. After starting only in ICQ, Internet abbreviation has expanded onto almost all Internet media platforms in merely 20 years. It is certain that Internet abbreviation will expand onto still more platforms, including even the traditional media such as newspapers and TV.
Because more and more media will be starting to adopt and use Internet abbreviations, language may become more concise. There will be more and more terms, phrases and daily sentences that can be replaced by abbreviated forms. Eventually, because of the integration of Internet abbreviation into daily communication, grammar and sentence structure may also change in order to accommodate the increasing usage of Internet abbreviations.
Therefore, in order to cope with the changes that Internet use will force upon language, educational institutions will also change their attitude towards Internet abbreviations. Teachers and parents will no longer insist on the use of old-school grammar and spelling only; instead, language education will switch to a reasonable combination of Internet abbreviations and conventional language depending on contexts.
Internet abbreviation is a fast developing sub-language that is going to make a significant impact on conventional language forms. In fact, all languages are evolving all the time, and the young generation is usually the pioneer force that brings changes to the language. So it is not the Internet itself that changes our language, but the young people who use it the most and who find new language forms that work best with the new technology. The Internet is simply a platform on which the language evolution takes place. At the same time, the Internet also creates the conditions that encourage the evolution of language. Therefore, the idea that Internet abbreviation changes daily language is not an idea based on technological determinism, but is based more on cultural determinism.
As discussed earlier, Internet abbreviations are used in particular contexts so that the meanings of the abbreviations will not be misunderstood. Therefore, it is controversial whether Internet abbreviations are open text, implying they will have different meanings for different people or different contexts, or closed text, implying they will have the same meaning for everyone in every context. In fact, most Internet abbreviations, such as WTF, are limited to only one meaning (“what the fuck”), so they can be considered as closed text. Yet some other Internet abbreviations, such as LOL, can have different meanings in different contexts. However, in a particular context, an Internet abbreviation can only have one fixed meaning, which effectively makes the abbreviation a closed text as well.
Finally, there is no doubt that Internet abbreviations are making a significant impact on our use of daily language. However, the debate on whether Internet abbreviations, as well as the entire Internet language, will benefit or damage the existing language structure is ongoing. Yet the fusion of Internet language and daily language is unavoidable, so the meaningless debate should stop and we should address the question of how to mediate the conflicts between Internet language and conventional language. Both languages will benefit and develop a healthy relationship if this problem can be solved sensibly.
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Baidu.com (2012). What does USA mean? Baidu Zhidao. Retrieved from http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/43574147.html
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Dixon, H. Jr. (2011). Texting, Tweeting, and Other Internet Abbreviations. Judges Journal, Vol.50(4), pp.30-33. Retrieved from http://www.heinonline.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/judgej50&id=164&collection=journals&index=journals/judgej
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Journalism storytelling is not like those “once upon a time” we used to hear in bed many years ago, although they can be very similar in some way. For example, despite both telling the same historical events, “Romance of the Three Kingdom” written by Guanzhong Luo in the 14th century is regarded as one of the greatest fictions in China, while “Record of the Three Kingdom” written by Shou Chen in the third century is seen as the official and authoritative historical text about the Three Kingdom period and later Han Dynasty’s history. The most significant difference between the two books is the use of truth, which can be also considered as the boundary line of “literary” and “literary reportage”: “Romance of the Three Kingdom” has many fictitious characters such as Chan Diao and Mao Deng, who do not appear in “Record of the Three Kingdom”. Journalism, as well as journalism storytelling, is more similar to “Record of the Three Kingdom” as they both need to tell the truth without making anything up. There is no doubt that “truth” is the most important aspect to journalism storytelling.
Internet Explorer: Victim of fake news
A news report by PC World Report in August, 2011 indicated that PC users who use Internet Explorer, the internet browser which comes together with Windows, tend to have lower IQ than those who use other internet browsers such as Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera. The result was published by a Canadian company called AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co., who claimed that they have more than 100,000 candidates who took the online IQ test. They invited users to take their test through advertising links on other websites and made a note of which browser each user was using to make the ranking (Newman, 2011). This story was also reported by many other high profile news agents such as CBC, CNN, and BBC.
This story was quite convincing at the moment. Most people believed it for three reasons. First of all, the survey was claimed to be based on a large amount of testers, and the method that AptiQuant used sounds very effective: The amount of participating testers was more than 100,000, and they came from different channels as they clicked different advertisements on different websites; also, AptiQuant did not ask the users which browser they were using but collected the data in the background so that users were unable to lie about it. Secondly, the statement that AptiQuant made fits most people’s common understanding: using one thing is stupid, using another thing is smart. This is similar to the everlasting iPhone vs. Android debate, where people argue if it is smarter to use iPhone or Android, and this debate continues even to the present days (Elite Daily, n.d.). Last but not least, Microsoft, who make Internet Explorer, did not put as much effort in promoting their own browsers than other companies such as Google who make Chrome and Mozilla who make Firefox as they believed that people have to use their browser because it is built in; yet people who were affected by the advertisements other companies made believed that using other internet browsers which comes with more features will also make them smarter.
However, the news story turned out to be a hoax. BBC news made a research on AptiQuant and found out that the company’s website was only built for a month. Moreover, the thumbnails of the company’s staffs were found identical to the ones of a Company called Central Test, which was also a psychometric testing company (BBC News, 2011). Some experts also raised their concerns towards this survey result. ZDNet expert Zack Whittaker claimed that collecting more than 100,000 candidates was a very difficult task on the Internet, and finding something meaningful from such large quantity of data would even take years (Whittaker, 2011).
The Fake News incident eventually went to an end, but the impact it brought afterwards was bigger than people predicted. Only three months after the browser hoax, a study by Ars in November, 2011 showed that web usage of Internet Explorer had dropped below 50%. It is worth noting that Internet Explorer dropped an outstanding 1.76 percent market share in two months from September while its drop rate was much lower in other period (Bright, 2011). Despite still retaining a majority of the market share, Internet Explorer is losing users rapidly, not only because of its lack of creativity and features, but also because of the browsers hoax which made a huge hit on it. Despite clarifications were made shortly after the hoax, a lot of former users of Internet Explorer decided to turn to other browsers which would make them “smarter”. In this case, Internet Explorer became the biggest victim of the hoax.
Tom Henning Ovrebo: Victim of a wrong storytelling
Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel suggest that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth, and when the journalists was interviewed for a survey asking what “truth” means, 100 percent of them answered “getting the facts right” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, p.36). Therefore, it is meant that we not only need to tell the facts, but to tell them in the right way.
Tom Henning Ovrebo, a psychologist, also a Norwegian soccer referee, was one of the victims from a wrong way of storytelling. He was famous for making many controversy decisions in many important soccer matches, and the most famous one was the UEFA Champion League semi-final second leg between Chelsea and Barcelona, which he turned down four penalty appeals by Chelsea. Chelsea players were enraged that Ovrebo ignored a foul by Daniel Alves on Florent Malouda, followed by a tug on Didier Drogba by Eric Abidal, as well as two handballs by Barcelona players inside the penalty area. The match was out of control for a time and players of both teams played roughly and brutishly. After the match, despite Ovrebo told UEFA match representative that he made “significant mistakes”, members in Chelsea team all raged at Ovrebo about his referral performance (Fifield and Lawrance, 2009).
The match became the headline on sports page of all news agents very soon, and all the speeches and opinions turned against Ovrebo. Almost all media expressed their compassion towards Chelsea and harshly criticism towards Ovrebo (Soccernet, 2009). As a result, Ovrebo received a death threat the very next day and his home address in Oslo, Norway was also published. In 2010, after failing in entering the final referee list of South Africa World Cup, he decided to end his international career and only continues in the Norwegian Premier League in order to escape from the harassment. But even till now, he still receives abusive emails from Chelsea fans (Wilson, 2012).
Ovrebo’s end was a tragedy made by the media. Instead of focusing on the mistakes made by the referee, the topic of how to improve the integrity of the match is more worth concerning. FIFA has urged more than one time to introduce technologies such as eagle eyes into soccer to help with referee’s job, and they also suggest having more linesmen into the match to reduce misjudgements. FIFA President Joseph Blatter claimed that July 5 2012 was historical as FIFA promised to bring goal-line technology into 2016 Brazil World Cup; FIFA also looked forward to introducing more technology which helps the fairness of the game (fifa.com, 2012). He also claimed that many misjudgements happened due to the limitation of human eyes, and that referees were not supposed to be the ones to be blamed.
Truth: Tell the fact, and tell it right
As mentioned earlier, journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Microsoft lost millions of dollars because of the browser hoax, and Ovrebo lost his career and his safety was put in danger due to the wrong direction of reports by the media. These examples are countless and they all prove one thing: truth is the most important aspect in journalism storytelling.
Back to the basic, journalists work for the public, and they must report the truth to gain the public’s trust; it is meaningless for journalists if their publications were not accepted by the public. One of the good ways to avoid reporting false information is to uncover as much information as possible; the more information a journalist uncovers, the less he will feel like to fill the unknown block. Ultimately, journalism is to tell the truth instead of catching people’s eyes with some bogus sparkle to attract interests.
Newman, J. (2011, July 29). Internet Explorer Users Are Kinda Stupid, Study Suggests. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/236944/internet_explorer_users_are_kinda_stupid_study_suggests.html
Elite Daily (n.d.). The Great Debate: iPhone Vs. Android. Retrieved October 28,2012 from http://elitedaily.com/elite/2012/great-debate-iphone-drod/
BBC News (2011, August 3). Internet Explorer Story was Bogus. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14370878
Whittaker, Z. (2011, August 3). Internet Explorer users ‘stupid’: Story was a hoax. Retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/internet-explorer-users-stupid-story-was-a-hoax/53845
Bright, P. (2011, November 2). The end of an era: Internet Explorer drops below 50% of Web usage. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2011/11/the-end-of-an-era-internet-explorer-drops-below-50-percent-of-web-usage/
Kovach, B. & Rosenstiel, T. (2007). The Elements of Journalism. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Fifield, D. & Lawrance A. (2009, May 7). Chelsea rage at referee for not giving them four penalties. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/may/07/chelsea-barcelona-referee-penalties-hiddink-terry
Soccernet (2009, May 6). Hiddink fumes at Norwegian referee’s display. Retrieved from http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=643931&sec=uefachampionsleague&cc=5901
Wilson, J. (2012, April 6). Referee at centre of Barcelona controversy still receiving abusive emails from Chelsea fans. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/chelsea/9189650/Referee-at-centre-of-Barcelona-controversy-still-receiving-abusive-emails-from-Chelsea-fans.html
Fifa.com (2012, July 5). Blatter: Technology’s time has come. Retrieved from http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/marketing/qualityprogramme/news/newsid=1660614/index.html
It was a warm summer evening. The clock on the wall showed that it was quarter to six. Remy Wan was putting away the kitchen knife and chopping board as she had just finished preparing the materials for dinner.
Just then she heard someone turning the lock. It was her mother Zhang Chen.
“Remy,” Chen yelled to Wan as she walked into the dining room, “why isn’t dinner ready yet? What have you been doing?”
“I’ve been preparing all this time,” Wan argued.
“I told you I’m coming home at six and I want dinner ready by then,” Chen was getting angry.
“But mom”, said Wan, “you are home early.”
Chen slapped Wan hard on the face. “How dare you argue with me? Go cook right away! I need to eat dinner!”
Wan covered her cheek with her left hand, and not a single tear fell from her eyes. Knowing that it was useless to argue, she walked back into the kitchen and turned on the electric stove.
Seeing the remaining water on the pan evaporating, she knew it was hot enough to pour the cooking oil. All of a sudden, Chen rushed into the kitchen, grabbed Wan’s wrist, and pushed her hand onto the burning hot stove.
“How dare you! How dare you!” Chen yelled as she held Wan’s hand on the element for what seemed like forever. Finally, Wan broke away with all her strength.
“No dinner for you tonight,” shouted Chen, “Now hurry and cook! I am hungry!” Chen slammed the kitchen door, leaving Wan crying, kneeling on the floor.
This was just one of the days of suffering endured by Wan in the first 18 years of her life.
Wan had suffered from domestic violence since she was born. The violence mainly came from her mother. The fact that Wan was not a boy not only lowered Chen’s status in the family, but also took away the love Wan wished her mother had given her.
Wan was born in a small town called Humen in the southern part of Guangdong, China. The concept of carrying on the family line is very important in Chinese culture, so naturally her birth was not celebrated like that of many baby boys, as her parents knew that their grandchildren would no longer carry the name Wan. Also, Wan’s parents believed that sons can not only carry on the family line, but can also create wealth and take care of their parents when they are older, while daughters eventually become part of their husbands’ families when they are married. These impacts, along with the one child policy in China, were maximized and reinforced the preference for sons among Chinese parents.
As early as Wan could remember, her family was wealthy and owned a big house, with several servants taking care of them. Her father was a successful businessman who had become rich from a shrimp sauce business. But as his business began to prosper, he had to go on more and more business trips and returned home less often, leaving Wan and her mother Chen alone in the house. When Wan was six years old, Chen dismissed the last servant and ordered Wan to do all the housework the servants used to do.
From that day, Wan lived her life like Cinderella who hadn’t met the kind-hearted fairy yet. After getting up at six in the morning, she had to spend the whole morning wiping every square foot of the floor in the three story house; next she hand-washed all the dirty clothes from the previous night as Chen didn’t allow her to use the washing machine. Later on she needed to do grocery shopping and make dinner, not to mention the dish washing afterwards.
“I had to do everything,” Wan said.
According to a 2010 study by the Changsha Domestic Violence Prevention Group, a governmental research group in Changsha, China, almost 80% of the girls from urban families in Hunan Province, China, suffer domestic violence to varying degrees; this number increases to an unbelievable 96% in rural areas in the province.
The study also indicates a very significant sex imbalance of newborn infants in China. In 2010, for every 100 boys born, there were 95 new baby girls in the world. However, in China, there were much fewer girls than boys. For every 100 boys, there were only 85 girls in China; in Guangdong Province where Wan was born, for every 100 boys, there were only as few as 77 girls.
“The term ‘gendercide’ refers to the systematic elimination of a gender group,” said Evan Grae Davis, a filmmaker and a director. “The UN estimates there are as many as two hundred millions missing women in the world today due to gendercide.”
Davis recently made a documentary called “It’s a Girl” to explore gendercide issues in China and India. He visited the two countries in order to do some interviews and he was surprised to find out that the local women were not only oppressed but also feel awkward and frightened to talk about how badly they were being treated. In China and India, many girls who survive from gendercide suffer from different levels of violence like Wan.
At the age of eight, Wan immigrated to Canada with her family. The Wan family bought a new house in Richmond and found an elementary school for Wan. During the first month after her arrival in Canada, Chen took Wan to many places to settle everything for their new life, and Wan didn’t have to do any housework. For a time, she thought her life had finally changed.
But she was wrong.
After everything was settled, Wan’s father returned to China for business, and Chen simply wanted Wan to do more than she could. School had taken some of Wan’s time, but she was still forced to do all the housework she used to do after school.
“I once got beaten because my mother wanted me to translate a government document, but I couldn’t,” Wan said. “I had been here for only two months and I could barely speak any English at that time.”
Bad news has wings. Although Wan didn’t tell anyone, the fact that she suffered from domestic violence spread very fast and brought in some social workers to her home. But the social workers’ visits simply made things worse. Wan always got beaten after each visit and she ended up in hospital two times, both for broken bones. Wan didn’t know who could help her.
“Slippers, brooms, belts, forks…she just used everything she could handle to beat me.”
Seema Ahluwalia is a sociologist in Kwantlen Polytechnic University who has spent years studying violence against women in Canada. She points out that women suffer all kinds of unfairness and violence even in developed countries like Canada.
“The government really needs to do more than just stepping in after the damage has been done,” said Ahluwalia. “Shelters and women’s centres are barely enough. Measures should be taken to prevent such things from happening.”
Wan tried to run away from home several times. She hid in friends’ houses and also looked for women’s shelters; she even slept under a skytrain station once. But she was sent home time after time, and got beaten every time by her furious mother. On the last time when Wan was brought home by a social worker, she was told that she couldn’t leave home and live alone until she was 18 years old.
Therefore, on Wan’s 16th birthday, she made a decision that changed her life.
She would leave home as soon as she turned 18.
During the next two years, Wan didn’t run away anymore and didn’t even argue with her mother. She was treated even worse than before as her mom mauled her almost every day. However, she was not afraid anymore, for she knew she could rescue herself.
Despite many girls suffering from domestic violence like Wan in India and China, very few of them have the courage Wan has to resist and escape. On her 18th birthday, she carried two pieces of luggage with only her clothes, and moved in with her friend temporarily. She moved out and rented her own apartment two months later.
“Those two months,” said Wan, “were the best time in my life ever.”
Wan’s life completely changed. After she left home, she went to beauty school and completed her International diploma. She did have some financial difficulties when she first moved out as she needed to make her living at the minimum wage, but that was nothing compare to the agony she had been suffering. After several years of perseverance, she now works as a laser technician in a downtown beauty salon, and she also has a boyfriend who loves her. Sometimes she wanders on Columbia Street in Vancouver, where there are a lot of bridal shops, and dreams of the day she will get married.
She still thinks of her mother, from time to time, but the memory only makes her frightened and tremble; her mother Chen didn’t leave her a single good memory. For all these years she only went back home and visited Chen once.
“Once I saw her in the mall from a distance, I pulled up my hoodie and ran away immediately.”
However, when thinking of her future, everything becomes brighter.
“When I have a baby, I hope it can be a girl,” Wan said. “I will love her with all my heart, and give her everything I can.”
“I will be the best mother in the world.”