On Ethnoburbia

I’m writing my term paper on (so, reading a lot about) the Canadian ethnoburb – a relatively new subtype of suburb populated by newer, wealthier Asian immigrants.

I spent most of my life living in Don Mills and Scarborough, two very prominent Torontonian examples.

I’m reading about the ethnic shift in areas near Chinatown that my parents used to rent a basement in. When I still wrote my journals in Chinese as a very small girl.

I remember that even once we moved out from Chinatown, my parents would bus in on the weekends to buy groceries, since they were much cheaper there and it had selections of Chinese vegetables that weren’t available outside it.

I remember the first time a Chinese supermarket opened near where we lived, how much more convenient our lives got.

I’m reading about a place that our family used to go to for takeout a lot before it shut down. It’s located in the first Chinese shopping centre outside of Chinatown, and it’s a block away from where my parents still live. One that sparked massive protest by the then-mostly-white residents of Scarborough. It’s now mostly empty. (We still go to the dim-sum place next door though, pretty much every time I head back to Toronto. It’s really good.)

My parents tell me stories about the struggles they first faced here, and now I see them reflected in my textbooks. And suddenly it’s like I realize another facet to this whole personal-being-political thing.

Future History

My grandfather owns a small museum, tucked away in my hometown. It is about the cultural revolution. Some things inside are my mother’s childhood silk slippers, the mahogany carriage my grandmother rode in for her wedding ceremony, and a curious wooden tool whose purpose was to help with darning socks. Although things like these were ubiquitous two generations ago, by the 90s my grandfather had to go to the furthest of traditional, dirt poor farming villages to curate new items for his collection.

If I follow in his footsteps, and start a museum in my retirement age, of things that existed during my childhood but not any longer, what would be there? Old technology is obvious, so I won’t bother with that. But what else? As dress codes loosen more and more, I think household irons might die out. As would print newspaper, as traditional media continues to lose their authority. Simpler kinds of candy, such as popeye’s candy sticks. Books won’t, but printed photographs might. Dollar store ceramic figurines, also.

This also makes me wonder about the things that existed in a baby boomer’s household, but don’t anymore. Again, radios and vinyls, yes, but what else? What things will be lost to time because no one thought to keep them until too late? Some clever tool to solve a transient problem that only existed in the nuclear age, something that would otherwise make us pause and exhale at the ingenuity of humanity, except they’re all decomposing now, and no one would even put them up in an attic because they’re tools, they were bought at the local general store for pennies, they don’t hold any sentimental value.

You throw them away when you move, saying to yourself that it will only take up space and you’ll buy a new one if the problem comes up again, and you’re relatively sure you won’t. You haven’t encountered that problem in ages.