Below the Radar Transcript
Episode 56: Working in Community — with Jackie Wong
Speakers: Rachel Wong, Am Johal, Jackie Wong
Rachel Wong 0:06
Hello listeners. I'm Rachel Wong with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is created by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement and is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode of Below the Radar, I had the opportunity to join our host Am Johal in interviewing Jackie Wong. Jackie is the current Director of Communications, as well as the Race Equity Project Director at Hua Foundation. Together we talk about Jackie's past work as a journalist, the current work she does in Chinatown with regards to decolonization and working with youth, and how her different experiences have shaped her approach to the work and research she currently does.
Rachel Wong 0:56
Welcome to Below the Radar. My name is Rachel and I'm with SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. I'm here with Am Johal who's the Director. Hello, Am.
Am Johal 1:05
Rachel Wong 1:05
And we're also here with Jackie Wong. I'm just super excited to chat with you today. So welcome, Jackie.
Jackie Wong 1:12
Hi, Rachel, thank you so much for having me on the show. I'm so happy to be here. And what a lovely way to begin this month.
Rachel Wong 1:18
Awesome. So I was wondering if you could maybe starting off with introducing yourself and telling listeners what it is that you currently do right now?
Jackie Wong 1:25
Sure. Well, I'm glad to be here as a longtime collaborator of Am's. I've been kind of like a friend and collaborator with the Vancity Office of Community Engagement for a number of years. And currently I work with a nonprofit called Hua Foundation, as its Raising Equity Project Director and Director of Communications.
Rachel Wong 1:43
Now, a couple months ago, I had the privilege of attending a panel that you were helping with Hua Foundation, as well as the Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice and the Megaphone Speaker's Bureau. You were doing a panel that talked about solidarity between Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, and thinking about the proximity between those two neighborhoods and what reconciliation means. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that project. And what spurred that?
Jackie Wong 2:09
Sure, we're still unpacking a lot of what came up in the discussion from that panel in November. And it was the product of quite a number of months of thinking and kind of years of work in the two communities. And I think that the reason why we wanted to host this panel in the way that we did was because we felt as though there was kind of a widely felt but seldom discussed sense of tension between the Chinatown communities, particularly the Chinese language speaking elders in the community and the Downtown Eastside community. And there seemed to be some collisions between the two communities in contexts of accessing services that both communities are so in need of like community drop in services and food and things like that, we were really curious about how to bring forward that conversation in a way that names the lateral violence that can happen across racialized communities, and also imagines a way forward for both neighborhoods to walk in solidarity with each other, because they're so close to each other, they share geographical area, and yet in the public imagination, and I think also the public conversation in Vancouver, they rarely share the same space. And so we were really keen to be able to partner with Megaphone Speaker's Bureau on this event and invite panelists that were representative of the Downtown Eastside, urban, Indigenous community, as well as the Chinatown community to come together to talk about what's at stake in both neighborhoods and what could be done in terms of working to lift each other up in a more meaningful way.
Am Johal 3:44
Yeah, it's interesting. These are such long conversations in terms of where they're at right now. You know, the old Downtown Eastside Residents Association, when they formed, they set the boundaries from Cambie Street to Clark drive prior to the water. So in some sense, in that older narrative, Chinatown is very much part of the Downtown Eastside neighborhood, but it's never been recognized by the city. And over time, you know, various planning processes unfold, and Strathcona has a separate one from Chinatown and Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer district, wondering how you approached this because obviously, there's complex narratives that have formed historically and in terms of the complexity of what it means to work together right now?
Jackie Wong 4:27
We were very curious about the ways in which historical planning processes and also historical community organizing efforts have either brought together or kind of polarized the two communities and I think that right now, when we think about what we're trying to focus our work on, it's in response to what we're seeing bubbleup in the community in various ways, and that, for us is a keen interest, yet a lack of community capacity or space to really talk about race and racism in frank ways and in ways that illustrate how those experiences impact people's everyday lives. And I think that in Vancouver, we have fewer opportunities to, to speak to that, particularly as a city in which folks of East Asian descent, particularly, quote unquote Chinese Canadian folks are kind of they make up the majority of visible minorities in the city. And so what that can lead to is this misperception that, well, there are so many of us, then we all must be having a great time. We're a very diverse city in that case, and we can just kind of end the conversation that way. But in fact, we find that there are everyday struggles and everyday experiences that tell us that that's not necessarily the case. And and we're really interested in considering how all of our liberation might be connected, and how we might be able to meaningfully walk alongside other communities that are not just Chinese Canadian communities, but many communities that have experienced different forms of discrimination. And think about how we might be able to work towards a more inclusive future together.
Am Johal 6:15
I'm wondering if you can add a little bit about the other work that Hua Foundation does as well?
Jackie Wong 6:22
Sure. Well, we started as a shark conservation nonprofit, it began, I think it was 2007 as a group called Shark Truth, which is before my time, but it was a youth led community organizing effort to try to bring together younger Asian diasporic activists around environmental sustainability issues related to shark fishing and, and really particularly thinking about how to mobilize racialized Chinese communities around choosing not to serve shark fin soup at wedding banquets and things like that. And it was, I think, at the time, an interesting addition to a conversation that had been previous to that dominated by groups like PETA, or kind of animal rights groups, an environmental movement that did not necessarily speak to the cultural nuances that people are living with. And so I think that from that there was a real interest in finding a way to do activism and do community organizing differently. It doesn't look so much with Hua Foundation, like direct action in the traditional sense, and kind of looks more like trying to find ways to bring people in and, and work alongside people, meeting people where they're at, and understanding their reality, rather than just like protesting in front of a restaurant and prohibiting people from accessing that restaurant, you know, and I think that there's value in that. But with Hua Foundation, there is an interest in trying to work alongside intergenerational communities, with elders, with people who might not necessarily share our politics. And from that it grew into an organization that was doing work in the food systems area and around food justice, and always trying to connect cultural heritage with social change. So I think that the Race and Equity Project in that case was a kind of an organic kind of evolution of that work. We sort of grew out of environmental work and into more broad based race and equity work.
Rachel Wong 8:24
And I love that you brought that up, too, just because the intergenerational piece I think, is so important, because I know that when I think about the discussions that I have, with even my parents, for example, there's a lot of maybe miscommunication that can happen sometimes. And what I love that the Hua Foundation does is that a lot of the work is centered around journeying and walking alongside different groups, different generations, but also an educational piece that is led by youth. I was wondering how you came to be drawn to this type of work where it is working alongside youth or like this younger millennial generation?
Jackie Wong 8:58
Well, it feels like a real privilege to do that work. And so I feel really lucky every time that I get to continue doing this. And I don't know, I think about work as not necessarily something that I get to pick like cherries from a tree or something like that. It's kind of a more on the ground kind of messy process. And I think that it's less about kind of moving directly in the direction of something that I want to do and more thinking about what the community needs and where I might be able to help. So I've been really fortunate to be able to work with young people in a number of contexts and in either teaching capacities or in other facilitative roles. And I think that the thing that I feel really glad to be able to do and I'm trying to continue to get better at over time is to try to create spaces for young folks to find their own voice and to be able to recognize the skills and the knowledge that they have already and really celebrate that in the many directions that they're going and it's very exciting to do that. work, I found it, you know, the semester in dialogue, it felt, I think healing for a number of people who were in the program but also therapeutic for Am and I as instructors as well. So I think there's something really special about convening in a way that acknowledges the truth of everybody's experiences and tries to find a way to move forward together,
Am Johal 10:20
You talk, I know, in your facilitation work, I know you've done work with community journalism with Megaphone Magazine, as well. But the process of facilitation that you do has a lot to do with decentering yourself in the in the process and and you've developed with, you know, many community groups that you've worked with this process, but what's your thinking around it now and how you go about doing this type of work?
Jackie Wong 10:46
Yes, it's really ongoing thinking. And I think that the key about decentering oneself, while continuing to do the work is, is always trying to continue to conduct an analysis of power and privilege that we're trying to do in all of the work, which can also begin with ourselves. And so in facilitative practices, we're thinking about how to generate wisdom from a whole group, rather than thinking about one person as kind of like the sage on the stage, or the one knowledge keeper that everybody has to look up to and listen to. And I think, for me, personally, that just comes from experiences of recognizing the ways in which those dynamics have not worked for a lot of people. And I think about that for young people, but also people who have had many experiences in life, I think about early experiences facilitating in the Downtown Eastside community, and how a lot of folks have had trauma related to institutions and schools and sort of mainstream learning environments, and how I think a lot of that trauma, it's very unique experiences, but a lot of that manifests in them not feeling as though their selves or essential pieces of themselves are validated or, or heard within these these contexts, that are asking them to to be a certain way in order to learn a certain thing. And so really trying to think about how we can do that differently.
Am Johal 12:10
A lot of your work, in many ways, has a relationship to listening, listening well, listening closely. And perhaps it comes from your background in journalism, initially, but wondering if you can talk a little bit about that period of your life prior to doing the work that you do now?
Jackie Wong 12:28
Sure, yes. It's a lot of listening, isn't it? I think that working as a journalist is super fraught. In Vancouver, in particular, I think everywhere, probably because of the, the kind of precarious nature of the work and also how, how the work is done, it's often kind of in a context of overwork. And yet, if you're able to kind of move through that and acknowledge that you're really lucky to also be professionally listening for however long you were working as a journalist, that's such a cool thing. That was a really formative time in my life for about 10 years, starting from about 2007 or so. And I'd worked as a journalist, I met Am working as a journalist for the West Ender newspaper, which is no longer a weekly paper, but I was working as a news reporter there and Am was doing some community organizing work around the 2010 Olympic Games. And for me, that job was super interesting in that I was able to really set my focus on listening to folks and hearing what was happening in the city at a time of really intense transformation. And a lot of the work in my journalism has centered around equity related issues, and particularly social justice related issues in Vancouver. And I've had the privilege of working with the Tyee on a number of projects related to housing and drug policy. And much of that work, I've approached from a perspective of wanting to pass the mic and to find ways of honoring the many literacies that exist in the city and constantly kind of battling that question of, of how we, you know, revere the written word. A friend of mine said that that was like a symptom of white supremacy on the weekend. But the reverence of the written word can sometimes exclude the fact that people are learning and taking in information in so many different ways. And so, for me, working as a writer was constantly working with this question of, like, "Maybe nobody's actually going to read this. So how can I write this in a way that is going to really maximize the possibility around how people might learn."
Rachel Wong 14:39
And I appreciate your approach to that just this idea of yeah, whether it's decentering and really trying to bring about this type of good and just allowing for people to take in knowledge in a different way that might not be the mainstream so I really do appreciate that. I understand that you have a little one with you at home and you know, you're speaking of this formative time of being in journalism. And obviously, when you become a mother that can definitely change, whether it's your outlook on life, your outlook on work, and I was wondering how that has maybe formed you in this new season of your life?
Jackie Wong 15:14
For sure. Yeah, it's very interesting learning. It's so fascinating. I think it's very hard. And it's also a very interesting time of really method acting your way into this new space of patience and really trying to understand somebody and trying to also unlearn the habits of your life that have been hard over time. And I think that for me, parenting a small person, your capacity is just so limited. And by capacity, I mean, my ability to do a lot of the stuff that I could take for granted before having a kid which was stuff like going out to a thing at night, or, or doing a lot of meetings that happen on like evenings, or weekends and or outside of daytime schedules and things like that. And it's really had me thinking a lot about accessibility and the limited capacities that many people are working with, inside and outside parenting, and how then to consider ways of including people and also honoring the day to day realities that people are living with, and that that is related to so much to health and to all of the lived realities that people are dealing with on a day to day basis. That means that they're not going to be able to read a whole book, but they're really interested in having this conversation in some way. For example, I think about like my limited capacity to like read, for example, or I have, I would not be able to work as a journalist right now in the context that I'm working in, because I don't have full time childcare, you know, like, just struggling under late capitalism is kind of a reality of a lot of folks. And I think it's interesting to think about the ways in which we have been told that we could just have a family and everything would be taken care of. But I think that that's under the presumption that there are all these other accesses to privileges or communities of care that people assume exists, but don't necessarily always exist for everybody. And so it's really important to kind of keep that at the front of our mind and think about how we maximize accessibility for more people to be engaged in community stuff that isn't always inclusive of or an acknowledgement of the realities that people are living with.
Am Johal 17:26
From your vantage point at the Hua Foundation, what do you think of as the key questions relating to the present and future of Chinatown right now in Vancouver?
Jackie Wong 17:39
I think that the key questions for me and this might not necessarily represent everybody at Hua Foundation. We work with a vast community of young folks. But I reflect particularly on a community partner group that we've been working with called Chinatown Today. And they recently published over the summer of an anthology of literary work, the editors Y Vy Truong and Kathy Thai, were approaching this work from a space of wanting to consider how many people belong in Chinatown, beyond just Chinese folks and thinking about Chinatown as this really dynamic hub of community and inclusion for a number of communities. And that includes folks who are not members of the Chinese community, but part of an East Asian diasporic community, like the Vietnamese community, or others, who were able to find solace and good groceries and a welcoming community in Chinatown, and also for South Asian folks and people who might not stereotypically be part of this picture of Chinatown that we've sort of painted over and over again in Vancouver. And then thinking about Chinatown as a space that is a place that we can imagine as a neighborhood that reckons with and considers the ways in which it was shaped by racism and discrimination and moves through that into a space where people of color and marginalized folks can find a home and can find solidarity. I think it's less about the preservationist perspectives that have sometimes dominated the conversation about Chinatown like yes, it is about honoring the history. But it's not just about saving one building, although we have to think about the ways that gentrification has been impacting the neighborhood and particularly its oldest residents.
Am Johal 19:38
Jackie, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.
Jackie Wong 19:41
Thank you, such a pleasure.
Rachel Wong 19:48
Thank you again to Jackie Wong for joining us on Below the Radar. To learn more about the work that Hua Foundation does, you can check out their website huafoundation.org. We've left a link to it in the episode description. Stay in the loop with Below the Radar by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to us wherever you find your podcasts, including Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, Overcast and Player FM. And if you love what you're hearing, we would love it if you left us a review. As always, thank you to the team that puts this podcast together, including myself, Rachel Wong, Paige Smith, Fiorella Pinillos and Kathy Fang. David Steele is the composer of our theme music, and of course, thank you for listening. Tune in next time for a brand new episode of Below the Radar.