Growing up Chinese

A teenaged Hing (in the foreground) and some friends ham for the camera (photograph courtesy Denise Chong).

From The Concubine's Children (Penguin, 1994), by Denise Chong. From a passage (pp. 156-7) depicting the life of the author's mother, Hing, with her teenage friends in Vancouver's Chinatown in the mid-1940s.

…Hing was one of about eight girls from Chinatown who were classmates at both Chinese and English school. Among them, Doreen Jang and Amy Gee were the magnets around whom the others gathered. Both girls' homes were like social clubs for Chinatown's youth… Amy Gee's father, twice widowed, in China and in Canada, lived with his six children in the flat above Kuo Kong silk store. He liked to see his children make friends, never complaining about the crowded dancing around the hi-fi or about the extra places set at supper. When Amy's older siblings started dating, he told them: "As long as you don't marry a Japanese or a gambler, I don't care who you marry—Chinese, black or white." It was an attitude that set him apart as much more liberal than many of his or even of his children's generation; certainly any Chinese boy who dated a white girl avoided Chinatown, knowing that the talk would be that he'd been seen with a prostitute…

From Doreen's or Amy's the group went on their own outings outside Chinatown. Sometimes they went to the municipal swimming pool. Although the rules at Crystal Pool had recently been changed to allow Chinese into the pool, they went only to watch the other swimmers. Most often the girls walked to a cinema on Granville to take in the latest Ingrid Bergman film and afterwards stopped in at one of the fashionable cafés—the Pa Ma, Scott's or Purdy's. They ignored the looks of disdain from the waiters and waitresses, and they understood the message at the bottom of a menu: "White Help Only." The main reason they went was to ask the resident fortune-teller to read their tea leaves, hoping she'd see in them the initials of future boyfriends.

Learn more:
Denise Chong
From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration