Chinese name in ballot meant to honour father, not for votes: Vancouver council candidate Brandon Yan

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      Brandon Yan says that except for the Chinese side of his family, no one calls him by his Chinese name Yan Nim Bun.

      Yan, who wants to become a Vancouver city councillor, also said that he doesn’t use it either.

      “Only within family,” Yan related in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. “So it’s one of those things where it’s not super useful in a predominantly English-speaking country.”

      When Yan filed his nomination papers with the City of Vancouver for the October 20 civic election, he asked city staff if his Chinese name written in Chinese characters can be included in the ballot.

      “I asked if I could, and they said, ‘Write it down’, so I did,” he said.

      Although there are other candidates of Chinese heritage, they were not able to get city staff to include Chinese characters opposite their names.

      When voters get their ballots, Yan’s name is going to stand out as the only one with additional Chinese characters.

      According to the candidate with the OneCity party, his Chinese name Yan Nim Bun stands for something like ‘Yan Remember Where You Come From’ or ‘Yan Remember Your Origins’.

      Yan said that his decision to include his Chinese name in the ballot wasn’t motivated by politics, which is to gain advantage with voters of Chinese origin.

      “I mean I don’t know, because I think, for that, most people will see that my name, my Brandon Yan is already a Chinese name,” he said. “You know, you have David Wong [Green candidate for council], and… there are folks with anglicized Chinese names…I don’t know if…it would give me a distinctive advantage to have a different Chinese name on there.”

      As Yan noted, “It wasn’t a huge thing in my mind.”

      According to Yan, the reason is deeply personal.

      It’s to honour his old father.

      “My dad is in his mid-70s, and, you know, he’s not going to be around for much longer,” Yan said. “…So I just wanted him to see that the family name was…there, and also…to see that…that the name he gave me…that I treasure that name, that I accept that name as well.”

      Yan said that his Chinese father, who had married a Caucasian woman, was driven by one thing when he gave his son a Chinese name.

      “His intention was to ensure that, you know, as a young mixed race person growing up in Canada, that I always remember my heritage and where I come from,” he said. “…I’ve been trying to learn more about my Chinese culture, and so I wanted to have that, and also for him to see the name that he gave me on the ballot also represented.”

      As a candidate for public office, Yan said that it was important for him to represent is “full self”.

      “And part of myself is my Chinese family and my Chinese connection to this area,” he said.

      According to Yan, his father is happy with what he did.

      “He’s proud,” Yan said.

      Yan said that he doesn’t speak Chinese.

      “He didn’t teach us any,” Yan said, referring to his father, “and I was actually starting to learn a little bit a little while ago and it was kind of sad ‘cause I said, ‘I was learning Cantonese', and he asked me like, why are you learning such an ugly language? Because I think, you know, as first generation immigrants…they were told…not to speak Chinese and to… learn English, and to kind of hate a bit of their own culture.”

      According to Yan, he had to practice scribbling the Chinese characters.

      “It was very difficult, but I did do it,” he said.

      According to Yan, having City of Vancouver staff include his Chinese name in Chinese characters in the ballot was easy.

      “I asked if I could, and they said, ‘Write it down’, so I did,” he said.

      Without going into details, Yan indicated that others are not happy that his name is the only one that will have additional Chinese characters in the ballot.

      “People were getting mad at me, because they’re like… they’re [city staff] treating me special, but… I just asked the question if I could use it, and they [city staff] said go ahead,” Yan said.

      In a separate interview, Rosemary Hagiwara, who is the city’s chief election officer, recalled that other candidates had inquired if they could include characters to their names.

      According to Hagiwara, these candidates were advised that the Vancouver Charter allows them to do so if the additional name is the “usual name that they go by”.

      “It’s a name that they use other than their legal name,” Hagiwara told the Straight by phone about what ‘usual name’ means. “They’re also known by that name.”

      In other words, a ‘usual name’ is the “name that the person goes by as well”, the chief election officer explained.

      Asked about Yan, Hagiwara said that she asked him to confirm that he is known by his Chinese name.

      “That is what he said. He has confirmed that to me,” Hagiwara said.

      If other candidates are thinking that they can still add Chinese names or characters, it’s already too late.

      As Hagiwara noted, the deadline for filing nomination papers was last September 14.