Chinatown Storytelling Centre fosters community belonging

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      Vancouver’s Chinese Canadians have so many stories to tell—and the Chinatown Storytelling Centre wants to help share them.

      Ramona Mar, content and programming curator for the centre, points to a few recent events that highlight this mandate.

      “For example, the Simon Chang [fashion] event that we just had—or the Hockey Night in Chinatown event,” she says. “Just to bring out more stories from the community.”

      The Chinatown Storytelling Centre, which was opened by the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation in November of 2021, dedicates its space and time to outlining the histories and experiences of Chinese Canadians. The stories that are featured span across centuries, from the first immigrants in 1788 all the way to present-day Chinese Vancouverites. Special exhibits change throughout the year to give a broader and more thorough picture of the lives of Chinese people in both Canada and Vancouver.

      Mar, who has been working part-time for the centre since before its official opening, says that she’s seen a noticeable increase in tourism since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, as well as a “new vibrancy” in the area.

      “There’s a huge difference between then and now,” she says. “Tourists are back, so the cruise ships started coming back. We’re on TripAdvisor and all that.”

      The storytelling centre is the cultural pillar of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, which focuses on the preservation of tradition and works towards building a sustainable future for Chinatown.

      “We are the sort of the physical presence of telling people why Chinatown is important to Vancouver,” explains Mar, “and to Canada.”

      Unlike the nearby Chinese Canadian Museum, the Chinatown Storytelling Centre keeps things local.

      “The museum has more of a national mandate,” Mar says. “We’re just focusing on Chinatown and [the fact] that Chinatown really was the ground zero, the opening, for pretty much all the Chinese immigration to Canada.”

      Both the Chinese Canadian Museum, the Chinatown Storytelling Centre powerful tools, according to Mar, who wishes there had been more education about Chinese Canadian history when she was in school.

      “When I was a high school student, I didn’t know any of this stuff,” she says. “And I wish I would have known it.”

      Mar hopes that the centre will help Chinese Canadian students feel a sense of belonging. “I want people to share in our pride at being contributing people to this country, and I want school children to know about an aspect of history they might not have been exposed to,” she asserts. “I also want Chinese Canadians to know that they shouldn’t be invisible—they shouldn’t feel invisible here. We want to show you that you are seen and this is your heritage.”

      That plan is already working. Mar says that a large number of the centre’s current visitors tend to be return guests who see their families represented in the exhibits.

      “We do have a core audience of actual families who grew up in Strathcona or families who have businesses here. They come in, and it’s really touching to see,” she recalls. “Imagine if your family is highlighted in a small exhibit like this. You would never expect that because you’d think, ‘Oh, my family only ran a corner store, that’s not important.’ Actually, it is important. It’s a contribution, and we honour those people here.”