Inside the world of China's ultra rich. Kevin K Li, director of reality show Ultra Rich Asian Girls, speaks to Al Jazeera
Inside the world of China’s ultra rich, Kevin K Li, director of reality show Ultra Rich Asian Girls, speaks to Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera: Some say that wealthy Chinese are inflating house prices in cities such as Vancouver. Is this an accurate assessment or is this a form of Sinophobia?
Li: I am not an economist, but as a Canadian, I believe that there are three factors increasing the prices of homes: historically low mortgage rates, the low Canadian dollar, and Vancouver is always rated as “the best place in the world to live”.
I know a lot of Canadians who hugely profited from the sale of their homes in Vancouver, downsized to a condo and gave the rest to their kids to buy their first home. It’s supply and demand from local and foreign buyers, not just Chinese. Yes, a small percentage of complaints stem from Sino- and xenophobia. This small group is looking for someone to blame and wealthy Chinese are an easy target.
Al Jazeera: The Hon Hsing Athletic Association in Vancouver’s Chinatown has played a significant role in your life. Why is this?
Li: Hon Hsing is the reason I proudly say I’m Chinese-Canadian. But it wasn’t always like that. I remember a dark phase when I was around 14, when I didn’t consider myself Chinese because I felt that I was better than my Hong Kong classmates. Their fashion styles were different, they always spoke Cantonese, and they were seen as the “uncool” kids in school.
I went out of my way to make sure my Canadian classmates knew that I was different from “these immigrants”, from the way I talked, dressed and ate. I thought everything was great, until one day I found racist writings in my school books saying “Chinks, Gooks and Chinamans should die”, with a drawing of a gun to the head.
It was directed at a group of us, Canadian-born Chinese. We learned it was actually from a group of white guys who we used to hang out with and considered to be our friends. I was so upset, angry and confused. I felt like I did everything right to separate myself from these “immigrants”, but the reality was they still saw me the same way. I knew that just because I was born in Canada, I would never be seen as an equal.
Then one of my friends brought me to a Hon Hsing Athletic Association, an activity club for Chinese youth, founded in 1939 by the Wong’s Benevolent Association. I learned Chinese lion dancing, kung-fu and Chinese-Canadian history.
This is where I found myself. Instead of ignoring and looking down on my heritage, I began to embrace it. I’d never felt happier. I was so interested in discovering my heritage that I even went to Beijing to learn Chinese for three months and learned about the history of China.
Al Jazeera: Do you feel that Asians are accurately represented in the Canadian media?
Li: Asians are hugely under-represented in mainstream TV, film and media. And the programmes that do have Asians in them are stuck in stereotypical roles - asexual Asian males and hypersexualised Asian females.
When my show first came out, I received a huge backlash from the Asian community who felt that it “made them look bad”. It’s frustrating that as a producer, who is Chinese, I’m limited to producing “nice Asian shows” when other producers can produce anything they want without having to represent any race but themselves. There needs to be more shows that push the boundaries of mainstream Asian programming and challenge the model-minority stereotyping.
No mainstream broadcaster in Canada has an accessible programme that correctly reflects the multicultural faces of Canada. This is a failure and this is why there’s so much misunderstanding and misinformation about Chinese Canadians.