A university professor on Vancouver Island is being lauded by the B.C. government for her activism and her advocacy for heritage.
Imogene Lim, a VIU anthropology teacher, has received the Province of B.C. Medal for Good Citizenship for her “outstanding service and commitment to helping others in their communities,” said the government in a press release.
“When you get something like this, obviously you’re thrilled, because it is an honour, but you just go on with your day,” Lim told Black Press.
Lim has been a strong voice for social justice with a Chinese-Canadian historical perspective, said the press release. Her work has includes advocacy for lands in Cumberland’s Coal Creek Historic Park, which was the site of former Chinese and Japanese towns and she was part of a group that established a Nanaimo Chinatown heritage plaque.
Lim is a descendant of a Chinese person who paid the head tax to come to Canada, specifically Cumberland. The Chinatown there was in decline in the late 1950s-early ’60s, said Lim. While local officials sought government money for restoration in 1963, it lost to Barkerville and whatever was on site was “razed,” with Cumberland Rod and Gun Club leasing land until 2001. A dispute ensued, said Lim, at which time she was called in as an academic who could attest to the land being a heritage site that “matters.”
“They did not know that I was a descendant,” said Lim. “Since that point in time, I have been the ‘noisy descendant’ in speaking out about heritage, so what people know me for these days is being that voice about heritage and speaking for those smaller communities.”
She is a board member of the Chinese Canadian Museum Society of B.C. and was part of the B.C. Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council that examined historical injustices.
In terms of commemorating Nanaimo’s Chinatown, Lim said she worked with Chris Sholberg, City of Nanaimo heritage planner, and two elders.
Lim’s medal coincides with increases in reported Asian hate crime incidents and Lim said she is “appalled” with the rise in racism, but not surprised, and she suggested there is growing awareness.
“Some people, because they don’t experience it, they don’t think it exists, or it exists somewhere else,” said Lim. “Like, ‘Why would this happen in our sweet little town?’ and that sweet little town could be Nanaimo, it could be some other little town, but if you are of Asian descent – and it’s not just Asians, Indigenous, the anti-blackness that’s around – if you are racialized, you could be accepted, but there are always, it seems, those one or two that make you realize that you are not accepted.”
Lim said she has the historical and personal background and also teaches about the subject matter. She wants to see more education, beginning in elementary school.
“Not everybody goes to post-secondary and not everybody actually completes high school either, so where are they going to get this information?” asked Lim.