Stranger in a Familiar Land

I just visited the place where I did my undergraduate degree about 20 years ago: Simon Fraser University, aka “SFU”. It is located on top of a small mountain in the Greater Vancouver area. It is in Burnaby, which is part of the metropolis consisting of Vancouver and its satellite cities.

SFU is a beautiful place, with great views of the city to the south and the mountains to the north. The architecture is unusual. It was built in the 1960s, in a style that I guess could be called “brutalist” or “hypermodern”. It’s blocky with a lot of exposed concrete. Some people find the architecture to be gloomy or oppressive, but I like the retro-futuristic aesthetic. The interior has some equally strange features, such as ribbed rubber flooring and odd little nooks and crannies in the concrete. It is a unique place.

So, that’s the setting: a weird university on a mountain in the metropolis of Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in the year of 2018.

Walking around the campus, I had a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Many things were exactly the same as before, including the rubber floors. But I also had a strong feeling of alienation, superimposed on the déjà vu. The place was mostly the same, but the people were different.

When I went to SFU, the student population was about 75% white. Now the student population is about 50% Chinese, and less than 20% white. Those are rough estimates, but East Asians are definitely a majority of the student population, and not by a small amount. I heard Chinese spoken as often as I heard English. SFU is now a Chinese school. As the Chinese and others flowed into Greater Vancouver, white people either moved away to afford houses, or they didn’t have children. Within 20 years, SFU shifted from being a white school to being a majority Chinese school.

University students have an emergent subculture of their own, which combines a nascent intellectualism with the concerns and attitudes of youth. University students talk about literature, art and philosophy. They also talk about parties, drugs, sex, romance, music, etc. There is something magical about that combination, maybe because philosophy, art and literature are most relevant to the young.

In my youth, university was an intellectual and social environment. On sunny days, we would sit outside with cups of coffee and cigarettes, reading books or talking with our friends. The student subculture was not definable in simple terms, but it was recognizable as a gestalt.

That subculture no longer exists at SFU. For example, I didn’t see anyone reading a book. I saw people studying textbooks, but not reading. That’s partly due to technological change, but it’s probably also due to demographic change. I’m sure that Chinese students are less interested in reading Nietzsche or Dostoevsky than white students are. It’s not their culture. Why would they find it interesting?

The Chinese tend to be more pragmatic about education. To them, it is about getting a good career. In the West, education has always been viewed as an end in itself, not just a means to an end. Since the days of the Greeks, Western education has involved dialog and exploration. It is more than learning from authorities. It is a quest for knowledge, in which the student plays an active role. Student culture reflected that underlying view of education. Being a student was more than just going to school and passing exams. It was a period of personal growth and exploration, which involved lifestyle experimentation, self-directed study, and talking about ideas with other students. I don’t think the Chinese view education in the same way.

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic and romanticizing the student culture of my youth. I’m sure that’s part of it. But I have been on other campuses recently. When I lived in Seattle, I was often in the university district near UW. I’ve also spent some time on the McGill campus in the last few years. Those places have a recognizable student culture. SFU doesn’t. Those places are still majority European. SFU is not.

It was “Club Day” when I was there. That’s the day when the various campus clubs set up tables to attract new members. There was a Chinese club, which seemed odd because almost everybody there was Chinese. Why would they need a club? Of course, there were no clubs for white students, or for European culture, or anything like that. That would be racist and exclusionary!!

My old school is an example of the profound demographic changes in Canada over the last 20 years. From 1996 to 2016, the non-white population of Canada roughly doubled, going from 13% to 27%. In my home province of BC, the change was more dramatic. Non-whites were 36% of the population in BC in 2016. (See Demographics of Canada on Wikipedia.)

The effects of immigration have been concentrated in the big cities. The city of Vancouver (proper) was 52% non-white in 2016, and the city of Burnaby, where SFU is located, was 64% non-white. Whites are a minority in both cities. Surrey, another satellite city located near Vancouver, was 59% non-white in 2016. It is highly South Asian. Richmond (a major destination for Chinese immigrants) was 77% non-white. I don’t have figures for the Greater Vancouver area as a whole, but it is almost certainly a minority white metropolis.

Other big cities in Canada are going through similar transformations. In 2016, Toronto was 52% non-white, Calgary was 36% non-white, and Montreal was 34% non-white. Following the same general pattern as Vancouver, satellite cities seem to have even larger percentages of non-whites. For example, Brampton (near Toronto) was 74% non-white, and Markham was 78% non-white. These days, you have to go pretty far from the big cities to see a mostly white population.

Also, keep in mind that non-whites almost certainly make up a larger percentage of young people than the figures I quoted, because people tend to immigrate at younger ages, and the white Canadian population is quite old on average. The fertility rate in Canada is below replacement, but the population is growing rapidly. White Canadians are literally being replaced by non-white immigrants.

The flow of people is not slowing down. The current government is increasing immigration, despite the problems that it causes. Canadians cannot afford houses. Taxes are high. Infrastructure is overloaded. Wages are stagnant. None of this seems to matter to the politicians. The public are bombarded with pro-immigration propaganda by the government and the media. They are told to celebrate their replacement. Criticizing immigration is taboo, and immigration critics face degrees of soft and hard censorship.

So, the flood of people continues, washing away what existed before and replacing it with something else. What will emerge out of this process? It remains to be seen.

I don’t hate immigrants or people of other races. It seems silly to even say this. I have always had friends of other races. I don’t mind living in a society with people of different races, and I don’t mind low levels of immigration that are balanced. Maybe if I could move to India or China as easily as Indians and Chinese can move here, I wouldn’t feel so screwed by mass immigration. As it is, however, it’s a one-way street, and I have been screwed by it. My kids will be even more screwed by it. I don’t agree with what is happening to Canada or to the West in general.

Mass immigration is creating a dystopia. It is creating countries that feel like airports — countries with no past and no future.

Canada is a country without a common heritage and culture, and without any sense of historical continuity. So-called “Canadian values” are just trite, meaningless slogans. Canada is just an economic unit that imports people and exports natural resources. It is a land of cookie-cutter housing and generic strip malls. The government and mega-corporations provide jobs and the necessities of life. There are plenty of Starbucks and Tim Hortons. There is mediocre health care with long wait times for specialists. (Don’t get cancer.) Immigrants flow in through various schemes and pipelines, making some people very rich, while they depress wages and inflate housing costs. Canada has no respect for its native sons and daughters. They are nothing more than disposable and replaceable cogs.

I miss the Canada of my youth. It felt like a country. It had a culture of sorts. Now, I don’t feel like I have a country or a culture anymore. Canada is my native land, but not my home.