End racism and sexism against low-income Chinese elder women in the DTES
By Ivan Drury
Near the end of the June 2nd Pantages paint-in action I walked around inviting anyone who could not get pancakes to go over to the DNC general meeting early and get a meal there. Around the middle of the line for the grill where people had waited for a long time already but where they would likely not get any pancakes there was a Chinese woman elder. I told her what I had been telling others but she couldn’t understand.
Come with me. I said, waving and walking backwards. Follow me.
She understood and smiled and walked with me. We crossed the street at Columbia and kept on past the bottle depot towards the Dodson Hall. As we reached the market congregation on the sidewalk one white man hissed and glared at her. I looked at him and back at her, touched her arm to see if she noticed his hostility and if she was okay. She smiled and waved me off. Okay okay, she said.
Then we were in the heart of the bottle depot market. Blankets spread out held their riches on the ground, a strange 8-foot high boudoir mirror propped against a shuttered store, lines of shopping carts overflowing with cans stood against the building and goods saved from landfills lined the curb. Another man leaned out from this cornucopia and shouted in my companion’s face.
Chinese! He shouted. Just that.
She laughed and waved her hand at him, rolling her eyes like it was a silly joke. I shouted (Hey!) back at him. She patted my arm and shooed my concern away again.
When we found the DNC meeting in the Dodson Hall I thought, Okay here it will be okay. The acoustics in the big hall dampened the sharp sounds and voices and the overcast glare of the outdoors. They drew me in from the doorway, through the corridor and into the welcoming crowd and the upholstered chairs and supported my feeling that there would be relief here for my new friend from the calloused racism I witnessed in my community on the street.
I took her to the line up for food and said to two guys I knew, Can you let this elder in line in front of you? She waited for nearly an hour for pancakes at the Pantages action and we ran out before she could get any.
One of them said, Sure whatever, they always cut in line anyway.
The other laughed.
I said, She’s an elder. If she weren’t Chinese, wouldn’t you offer to sit down and bring her food?
They shrugged. She thanked me profusely for getting her place in line. I ran back to Pantages to finish packing up from the demonstration.
In the DNC we spend a lot of time talking about how great and accepting our low-income community is. People who don’t feel comfortable anywhere else in the city feel loved and at home in the Downtown Eastside, we say. During one walk down two blocks with a Chinese elder woman another truth was brought home to me: anti-Chinese racism is strong and maybe even growing in this community that is so accepting to so many other oppressed people.
I hope that non-Chinese members of the low-income community can listen to these stories and learn to support the struggles of low-income Chinese community members instead of being another barrier to the belonging, safety, health, security, dignity and justice that we demand for all.