Saturday, August 17, 2013

Am I Racist?

Word has it they're Vietnamese.  Not that many around here can discern the subtleties of southeast Asian nationalities.

We grew familiar with them scouring the flats of Nanoose bay, opposite the "hush hush" naval installation, on the low tides for clams and oysters and mussels.  Their cars and mini-vans would line the shoulder of the road and we could see them poring over the sea bed with their spades and buckets.

Now it seems they've moved to our beaches.  It used to be great to go out every now and then and harvest a bucket of clams or oysters, sort of a treat.  Take them home, give them a day to expel any retained sand and - dig in!

Those days might be over.  Our rapacious newcomers seem intent on also turning our beaches into their shellfish cottage industry.  What shall we do?   Do we allow our beaches to be mollusc-cleansed and accept the loss of this essential tidal biodiversity or shall we simply kill off the harvesting for everyone?

The prevailing sentiment seems to be that it's better that no one have them, none at all if need be, than that we allow our beaches to be plundered and so have nothing.  I have to say that I support the closure of our beaches to mollusc harvesting by anyone - even though anyone includes me.

Those oysters, clams and mussels are part of nature.  They fulfill a role and, while we can tread on their biodiversity delicately, we cannot abide their wholesale devastation.

It troubles me when a visible minority so offends our environment, the gift we shared with them.  When I lived in West Van I was a short walk away from a great swimming spot, Caulfield Cove.  The neighbours talked about the old days when they might go down after work and toss in a crab trap and fetch a couple of nice Dungeness home for dinner. 

Then strangers began turning up and the crab disappeared.  I spent many an afternoon in Caulfield Cove and I repeatedly witnessed these newcomers fishing out the marine life.  If they caught a fish they didn't want, for reasons of species or size I presume, they would routinely toss it up on the rocks to die rather than return  it to the water.   At times I would yell at them and they would simply gaze back at me with utter indifference.

I appreciate that it may seem racist for me to point this out but it's only people of one race that I have ever seen do this and, by virtue of that, surely it is what it is.

And so I will support the closure of our beaches to all shellfish harvesting, a total ban.  Yet I cannot help but feel some resentment to those who made that necessary.


Marie Snyder said...

It's an interesting question. I think there's a difference between noticing a pattern and racism - particularly if the pattern is 100%. I can't help noticing that the East Indian kids in my classes almost always end up with the highest marks. I consciously act to prevent bias in my marking, but then it happens again and again. Culturally, many of them are made to study for hours every night, so there's a reason that this pattern exists. But I still feel uncomfortable just for noticing. Yet I think I shouldn't feel badly at all. It just is what it is.

It would be racist for me, upon meeting a new student, to make assumptions about their ability. I mentally stop myself from doing that. I think that's the difference. If you met someone of this ethnicity elsewhere and immediately assumed they'd bleed the ocean dry if given a chance, then that's racist.

UU4077 said...

I would view this as more cultural than racial.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if it is or isn't.

If 'word has it' that they're Vietnamese, one has to wonder if the idea of 'those damn Vietnamese killing off the shellfish' travels faster than 'we're killing off the shellfish', because people are like that.

Even if it is a particular group though, is the racial identity of the group relevant to the fact that they're over-harvested? (It is to this post, don't get me wrong, it's an interesting thought!) If it was JUST a small settlement of Vietnamese harvesting shellfish and the number of people wasn't enough to do any damage to the population, it would be fine... so maybe it's a problem of degrees rather than absolute... so if everyone is harvesting, why is it THEM causing the problems? (maybe some of the 'newcomers' understand the problem as well and choose not to harvest? I'm not sure)

I don't know the numbers... sounds like people used to harvest shellfish now and again all the time, now more people are harvesting, and there are less shellfish to go along. The number of people harvesting reaches a tipping point, and no more shellfish.

Pointing out the demographics of who seems to be harvesting more isn't racist, but there is a spectrum, and when it gets to "OUR beaches into THEIR shellfish cottage industry", more people might call it racist. I don't know if I would, I don't know enough about the situation.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese cut the fins off sharks for soup. They then throw the shark back into the sea to die. Elephants are slaughtered for their ivory tusks for the Chinese and their baubles. Now they want the fur of animals, in the high north. Scores of Canadians are furious, they don't want Communist China in our country for 31 years, what-so-ever.

Up in the tar sands, the Norwegians were said to have diverted a river, to their tar sands projects. Norway's dirty diseased fish farms, are killing off BC's wild Salmon.

That the Vietnamese are plundering oysters and clams, is of no surprise.

Foreign country's have no respect. for Canada's eco-systems? This isn't their country so, why should they care?

Anyong said...

I don't think for one minute that you are racist MOS...just observant as to the attitude of some people in grabbing for themselves. I was acutely made aware of how Asians harvest fish in their own territory. The attitude being they better take it all before someone else does. There are also poachers harvesting bear paw in Canada and Russia for the Chinese. The Chinese pay huge somes of money for the so called afrodisiac. The disgusting part is, the poachers leave the rest of the animal. Asisas also kill tigers for their paw.

Anonymous said...

" At times I would yell at them and they would simply gaze back at me with utter indifference." Do you know if you were being understood? Do you know if they speak English?

There are also lots of Vietnamese who arrived here as boat people and now their kids are young adults, running the best restaurants. Was it them you saw on the beach?
Your cant even identify the group, as you state in your first line. What, do they all look alike? Is one group supposed to "look" a certain way? Yes, I think that you have presented yourself in a racist manner.

The Mound of Sound said...

Actually, Anon5:22, more than once when within range I scrambled across the rocks to flip those fish back into the water and the people who were responsible obviously thought it was hilarious.

And, if you read what I actually wrote, I didn't designate these harvesters as Vietnamese. That's just how the locals around here label them. Why I'm not entirely sure but, again, as I wrote I'm not sure the locals could tell a Vietnamese from a Thai, a Cambodian or, for that matter, a Japanese. So why don't you do yourself a huge favour and work with what I actually wrote, not with what you seem to want to believe I wrote, SM.

Alison said...

I too remember swimming at Caulfeild Cove as a kid, with its unusual spelling of "feild".

I imagine this is how First Nation peoples must have reacted to Europeans fishing and harvesting clams centuries ago - Are they going to eat everything?
Remember this, MoS, from 20 years ago?

I think it is cultural. I remember showing a Vietnamese around Lost Lagoon on his first day in Caanada. He was astounded people hadn't eaten the ducks and swans - it seemed a great waste to him.

Has anyone where you live now suggested setting a limit rather than imposing a full ban?

The Mound of Sound said...

Alison, you brought joy to my heart by noting the correct spelling of Caulfeild. I changed it for this post because I thought readers would just assume I'd made a typo.

No, I didn't recall that news item from 1992 but I do recall similar poaching cases I watched in court in the Lower Mainland.

I think the reason for the ban movement is because the beaches are just so difficult to police. Residents say the clam diggers even come out with flashlights at night on low tides.

Tell me, are your memories of the cove as magical as mine? What a splendid place. The government float, the locals' boats, the trails and rocks for sunbathing, that oh so cold but clear water. The backdrop of Lighthouse Park and do you remember those blackberry bushes and their bounty?

Anonymous said...

Prove to me that they are indeed Vietnemese?

If not you are racist!

But I agree that whom ever is doing it should be caught and punished, yet there is no law.

kootcoot said...

anonomouse @9:04

" I didn't designate these harvesters as Vietnamese. That's just how the locals around here label them. Why I'm not entirely sure but, again, as I wrote I'm not sure the locals could tell a Vietnamese from a Thai, a Cambodian or, for that matter, a Japanese. So why don't you do yourself a huge favour and work with what I actually wrote, not with what you seem to want to believe I wrote, SM."

You should look into the problem you seem to have with reading comprehension!

Alison said...

MoS : Entirely magical and with all the sunny vastness of childhood. ;-)
Did you also go to Sandy Cove a little further east? Long flight of wooden stairs down to the beach, big rope swing over the creek, little shack that sold ice cream and chips?

P.S. Ditto what Koot said. Also ...
We are all of us unwitting racists, sexists, ageists etc., according to what parts of the human tribe we most clearly identify with at any given time and how our personal experiences shift these boundaries. It's what we each do with that challenge and how we deal with the opportunities it gives us that matters.

Anyong said...

If anyone has lived in Asian countries and worked with Asians, one does learn the finer differences between Japanese, S. Koreans, Thai and of course Vietnamese. All of them are beautiful. When they come to Canada, it ought to be part of their introduction to the country and its culture as to what our attitudes are regarding the finer points of life here.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes indeed, Alison, I spent a good many afternoons there too. Although I haven't been back there for many years I believe the stairs should still be functional. Dundarave, Ambleside have their charms but nothing compares to that little slice of lower Caulfeild.

@Anon 9:04 you might find it helpful to check out the link Alison @ 8:47 posted above. That is if it's information you're after, not just an opportunity to vent your spleen.

Purple library guy said...

Mind you, it's all kind of a matter of scale. It seems many Asians still believe in ruthlessly exploiting nature at a retail, personal level. Most Canadians of European descent don't really do that any more, we like to keep experiencing the little smidges of wilderness where we live. We certainly used to though, cf. "Passenger Pigeon".

But nowadays we mostly do our environmental destruction wholesale rather than retail; we leave it to the corporations, the big commercial fishing ships, the driftnetters and whatnot (not that the Asians don't do all of that too). I'm not sure how much more virtuous that really makes us, or whether it's just that we're a little less hungry, or what.

Is there irony in the idea of some Vietnamese doing to some of our communities in micro scale what we've been doing to First Nations all this time in macro scale?

Mind you, no matter any musings about the frame of the whole thing, it's still a good idea to put some community controls on that commons. Commons aren't really tragic precisely because they are normally not unmanaged, but community managed.

Anonymous said...

The commercial operations are a problem too. I had a man angrily tell me to stay off his section of the beach or he'd press charges and sue me, simply just for being there (I had not dug one clam and was on my way to the public reserve). He pointed out an area literally 2-3 kilometers long and said it all belonged to him... Unbelievable that such a proposition even got past the DFO. His group had very massive bags of clams and I've seen them there whenever the tide is low.

Again, I agree these specific groups of people are a problem and the DFO should be present more to enforce shellfish gathering limits, but let's not turn our cheek the other way at the private enterprises that have almost completely taken over Nanoose Bay.