A Richmond-based Chinese restaurateur has claimed that Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang is "unfamiliar with Chinese culture" and "unable to understand the historical bond Chinese have had with shark fin".
Jang has been the political point man on a campaign to ban shark-fin soup from local restaurants to prevent more of these ocean predators from being killed.
David Chung, spokesperson for the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, told Ming Pao that Jang is doing this because he "was born in Canada and was influenced by western culture from a young age".
"He is not Chinese; he is a banana," Chung, owner of Jade Seafood Restaurant, told Ming Pao in Chinese, according to an English-language article in the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post.
Jang recently persuaded Floata Seafood Restaurant to stop serving shark-fin soup.
He told the Straight by phone he felt that being called a "banana" was "initially racist". (It's generally seen as a derogatory or racist term applied to people of Chinese descent who are perceived to be too "white".)
However, Jang added that Chung's comment was also "validating" in that it demonstrated that as a politician, he's representing the whole community.
"At first I was pissed off," Jang said. "Then, I thought, 'I guess I really am.' I should be reflecting all of Vancouver's values, not just one particular group's.
"So at the end of the day, I took it as kind of an offhand compliment, but it took some intellectual energy to get there," he added with a laugh.
Chung claimed in his Chinese-language interview that Jang was only doing this "to get cheap political votes".
Jang said that he has received emails and letters from all over North American and Hong Kong after Chung called him a banana. Jang, whose family has been in Canada for several generations, revealed that he first heard the term in high school when there was a large group of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong.
The Chinese pioneers in Canada were known as the Lo Wah Kui, and, according to Jang, they were sometimes looked upon as bumpkins by the newer Hong Kong immigrants when he was young because their Cantonese was different.
The irony for Jang is that when he was growing up, he was pigeonholed as Chinese by the rest of society, yet among the newer Chinese immigrants, he is sometimes seen as too "white".