I live in a Toronto’s tony Willowdale neighbourhood. In summer canopy magnificently appears in the tree-lined street, and in winter, the neighbourhood is painted white in snow.
I moved into this neighbourhood in 2000, before waves of Chinese immigrants flooded to the city. As a member of Asian community who put special values in children’s education, the quality of school has always been the top consideration in their neighbourhood assessment. I became very interested in this neighbourhood only after a brief house hunting experience. It was the elementary school – which was ranked as the top schools in GTA for several years in a row– that caught my eye and made me decide to move in.
Back then, it was quite a diverse neighbourhood. There were quite a few senior white people -- from retired professionals to homemakers living here. During those hot summer weekends, I often struck up some random chats with them as I passed by their houses, during which we exchanged life experiences, cultural values and social concerns.
Education always became the topic of our discussions. When Maclean magazine’s article “Too Asians” sparked a heated controversy in the Chinese community, it also stirred a wave of debates in the neighbourhood. Mike, who lived a few doors away from mine, was a lawyer with decades of practices in family law. He was a strong supporter of the opinion expressed in the article:
“Asian students have great grades at school, but I don’t think they are quite successful as whites in their professional careers,” he would say. “Too many Asians got into medical schools and that caused a great concern… I’m afraid that one day all medical clinics in Canada are occupied by Asian doctors!”
His comments often irritated another neighbour of mine, a school teacher with an Asian ancestry. He accused Mike for being racist, but expressed concerns over Asian students’ communication skills.
“Many Asian students are extremely smart, but some lack good language skills… What’s good about a doctor if she can’t talk with a patient?”
As time goes by, the neighbourhood has gone through demographic transition, as Toronto receives a large wave of immigrants from China. Amid a growing trend of Asian parents sending their children to pursue foreign study overseas, the community college in the nearby neighbourhood has attracted a lot of students from China. Houses on our street that provides the best location and convenience have become the ideal residence for them.
Over the past few years, many senior white families sold their homes. Mike and another neighbour died while others decided to downsize and moved out from Toronto. Most of their homes were bought by newcomers from China.
The demographic changes have brought impact to the rest of us who remain in the neighbourhood. As the homes changed hands, homme prices soar, leaving most homeowners to face increased property taxes. Complaints about the random littering, illegal garbage dumping and noises from rooming houses are also on the rise. The senior white homemaker told me that had it not been for her ailing physical conditions, she would have joined the bandwagon to flee from the neighbourhood.
“This is a neighbourhood for families and the homes here were not designed for a group of people to share!” she often grumbled.
As for me, I missed the education-focused heated debates with Mike and others– regardless how racism they were. I also missed the family atmosphere where children laughed and played on the streets during the hot summer nights.
But who am I to judge? Did I choose to settle here simply for the school in the neighbourhood, the same purpose for most of the new neighbours here today?
In the end it was this education fervor among us Asians – who want to seize any opportunity to pursue the best education – that has drawn us to this neighbourhood.
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