The state of Cantonese in Vancouver

Cantonese culture continues to shine despite statistics

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By River Kero

Cantonese continues to thrive in Vancouver despite Mandarin’ increasing dominance in the city.

Cantonese has historically been the most spoken Chinese dialect in North America. According to the Statistics Canada, between 2011 and 2016, the number of Cantonese speakers in Canada increased by 52.7 per cent whilst Mandarin increased by 139.4 per cent. As of 2021, there are 697,000 Mandarin speakers compared to 553,000 Cantonese speakers.

“I would say that in the last 10 years, there has been an influx of Mandarin-speaking people,” said Rachel Lau, programs manager of the Yarrow Society, which supports low-income Chinese seniors in Chinatown. “I think it always fluctuates, depending on what the political situation is in China and abroad.”

For Lau, they don’t see Mandarin as overshadowing Cantonese.

“I’m cautious to [say] “overshadowed” because I think that can be a kind of lateral violence or xenophobia,” Lau said.

Lau said that they had easy access to Cantonese culture and language, and now they use it in their work with seniors. For them, the intergenerational cultural connection is critical.

The culture continues

Athena Wong is a Vancouver-based Hong Kong immigrant who came to Canada in 2012. She helped form a local collective called “Vantopop”, a portmanteau of “Vancouver” and “Cantonese Pop Music or Cantopop.” It’s a group of Vancouver-based Cantonese-speaking musicians.

Their goal is to “keep the Cantonese music going,” Wong said. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be in Hong Kong to do the Hong Kong thing.”

Wong has made many connections in Canada, and said that she has opened her eyes to what Cantonese music can be. For her, as long as the roots of Cantonese culture are remembered, the culture will continue to thrive.

The next generation

Wong said there are a lot of Chinese Canadians who grew up here, as well as second-generation Chinese Canadians who were born here and raised here, and kept their identity because of the language spoken at home.

“I would think they would be some some sort of loss in terms of their identity being only Canadians,” she said. “But (they think) my family spoke Chinese or Cantonese … I want to know more about the culture.

“There are people that actually like the culture that want to be involved, but don’t know how, or when or what to do.”

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