Lily Cho is a Chinese who was raised in Canada. She is the go-to person for topics on Chinese food in Canada. Cho is known for her book Eating Chinese, which describes how the Chinese immigrants in Canada took into Chinese restaurant business. She has participated in writing another book Human Rights and the Arts, which is a perspective on global Asia. Lily Cho is an associate professor at York University, and a researcher focused on the different cultural fields of the people living in diaspora. Among her other works is Mass Capture, which is aimed at exploring the relationship between citizenship, photography, and anticipation as a mode of agency for the Chinese Canadian head tax certificates (York University). The second project she is running is the Asian Values, which explains the movements in the diaspora valued theories in postcolonial Asia.
Eating Chinese was a Ph.D. thesis that turned into a book. She started with a Canadian Chinese restaurant. She intended to find the significance of biculturalism that emerged in such spaces. The book describes the menus from Alberta Chinese restaurants. Analysis of songs sang in the Chinese restaurants and the arts displayed in these places that told mimicked the experience of being in a Chinese restaurant. She aimed at analyzing the history of the Chinese restaurant and the experiences back then, but the book is solely on the new businesses with a thrash of history (Cho 23-30). For example, when she notes that in 1931 one in every three male cooks in Canada was Chinese and the stories of the early 20th century of the cook who was a woman disguised as a man.
This book outlines how Chinese restaurants in Canada have been used to uphold the Chinese culture. The writer narrates how the menus were not a real representation of the Chinese culture as they were made out of Canadian recipes, but for someone who lived in Canada when Chinese food is mentioned ,that is what they would think of (Cho 87). This means that the Chinese had brought the aspect of their culture in Canada, and the Canadians had a chance to experience it. For the Chinese born in Canada, they had an opportunity to experience what was a representation of their roots, and identify with the art in the restaurants that represented their culture (Lam and Keller 663-669). These restaurants were started due to denial of chances to work in Canadian firms on racial basis. The restaurants, therefore, provided a platform for the two people to interact better and co-exist with each other in harmony.
Chinese restaurants were a way of keeping the families in diaspora together. These businesses were started by people who could not secure jobs when they had landed in Canada. It was a survival scheme and was run between families. The writer reports of restaurants that had been run with the family,and passed down up to the fourth generation (Zhuang and Chen 283). This is a depiction of how, in the environment that was not so welcoming to the immigrants, the businesses were a strategy to ensure that the following generations would not experience what their predecessor had to go through. These restaurants have helped in reducing the rate of joblessness in Canada, especially amongst the immigrants. However, some of the employees in these restaurants were also Canadians.
The businesses have contributed to the growth of the Canadian gross domestic income through the payment taxes, purchasing of their local products in the recipes for these restaurants, and importation charges for some of the high-end restaurants (Zhuang and Chen 290). The writer talked of how the food in these restaurants was not quite a representation of the Chinese culture, but a blend of the Canadian and the Chinese culture (Cho 146). She meant that whatever was on the menu was sourced locally, but given a touch of the Chinese recipe. The Canadians, therefore, benefited through the availability of markets for their products and the immigrants paying taxes to their government.
The Role of Chinese Restaurants in Canada
The Chinese restaurants have impacted the economy of Canada in a positive way. According to Bhatty, the economic growth is significant given an increase in demand for natural gas and agri-foods commonly used in the restaurants. The number of people eating at the Chinese restaurants is relatively high and also there is an increase in foods sold via local supermarkets, leading to a higher rate of economic growth (Bhatty).
The growth of Chinese restaurants has led to the general acceptance of Chinese Canadian food throughout Canada (Rose). Indeed, as Rose observes, this is widely accepted as Canada’s staple food, for instance the chop suey and ginger beef. Rose also points out that before the Chinese immigration, the authors of Chinese restaurants, the Canadian culture was strange and complex with no ideal defined form of staple food.
Employment opportunities have increased also in relation to the growth of Chinese restaurants as one of the pillars of the Canadian economy. This has worked to the favour of Chinese immigrants whose main goal was to get employment opportunities (Bhatty). Consequently, the relationship between Canadians and the Chinese immigrants has improved immensely.
Lily Cho studied Chinese restaurants in Canada for her Ph.D. and turned her thesis into a book that has been widely used to analyze the Chinese hotelier industry in Canada. She aimed at examining the historic Chinese restaurants, but her story covers most of the modern ones. From her book, we see how the Canadian government discriminated the Chinese immigrants. The immigrants ventured into hotel industry that has been a booming business in Canada. These hotels help uphold the culture of the Chinese, contribute to the Country’s GDP through paying taxes and providing jobs for the residents and have been used to keep the Chinese families close as most of them are family businesses.
Does the book give an exhaustive history of the Chinese restaurants in Canada?
No. the book only highlights one primary reason for the start of these restaurants. Its main aim is to emphasize how the Chinese found it difficult settling in when they first migrated to Canada.
Do you think this story could stir up resentment amongst the Chinese and the Canadians today?
This book is historically based and highlights how the two cultures are merged, despite the restaurants being ‘Chinese.’ This is a representation of co-dependence despite our ethnic differences. Whatever happened in the past should not affect us now.
Do the immigrants find it as hard to settle in right now as it was then?
The systems in place today are more receptive. The embassies and the visas provided give these immigrants more rights than what they previously had.
- Bhatty, Ayesha. “Canada Prepares for An Asian Future”. BBC News, 2012, www.bbc.com/news/world-radio-and-tv-18149316. Accessed 23 Nov 2019.
- Cho, Lily. Eating Chinese. University of Toronto Press, 2010.
- Lam, Ivy T. Y., and Heather H. Keller. “Honoring Identity Through Mealtimes in Chinese Canadian Immigrants”. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementiasr, vol 30, no. 7, 2015, pp. 662-671. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/1533317512449727. Accessed 18 Nov 2019.
- Rose, Nick. “How Chop Suey and Ginger Beef Helped Canada Discover Itself”. Vice, 2017, www.vice.com/en_us/article/d7kyjj/how-chop-suey-and-ginger-beef-helped-canada-discover-itself. Accessed 23 Nov 2019.
- York University. Lily M Cho/Faculty Profile/ Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. 2019, profiles.laps.yorku.ca/profiles/lilycho/. Accessed 19 Nov 2019.
- Zhuang, Zhixi Cecilia, and Amanda Xiaoxuan Chen. “The Role Of Ethnic Retailing In Retrofitting Suburbia: Case Studies From Toronto, Canada.” Journal Of Urbanism: International Research On Placemaking And Urban Sustainability, vol 10, no. 3, 2016, pp. 275-295. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/17549175.2016.1254671. Accessed 18 Nov 2019.