Updated: Jul 17
Cultural celebrations are always fun. Moreover, there are lots of reasons why we should celebrate Asian Heritage Month. Thanks to Asia and its culture, we get to enjoy sushi, tea, noodles, yoga, martial arts, and even karaoke! We think celebrating Asian Heritage Month by going to a favorite Asian restaurant to learn about their food or shop at an Asian-owned business will be enough. However, should that be the case when racism towards Asians is still an issue?
What is Asian Heritage Month (AHM)?
AHM is a month to spread awareness about racial inclusivity and celebrate the contribution of Asian communities in Canada and the United States. In the United States, the celebration falls in May because two momentous events happened during the same month, although many years apart. May was when the first Japanese immigrant came to the United States in 1843. Coincidentally, the month Chinese laborers also completed the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Canada starts celebrating Asian Heritage Month starts in 2001 after Vivienne Poy, an Asian Senator, suggested following the United States example and acknowledge the contribution of Asian descent in Canada.
The Importance of Asian Heritage Month
The answer is simple: eradicating racism towards Asians.
We need to start by acknowledging the rising hate crime towards Asian descent due to COVID-19. CBC interviewed some Asian Americans about their encounter with racism experiences. Surely, unpleasant experiences from day-to-day discrimination and minor aggression to targeted shooting make them wonder if they can ever truly feel like they belong. Moreover, it puts an unnecessary psychological toll when life is already hard enough with the pandemic and external stressors people have to deal with daily.
Even before the pandemic, Asian women become fetishes as if they are objects. Then there is the classic Go back to your country - a common remark often launched at Asian descent even when they were born and raised locally. Finally, let us not forget the killing of Vincent Chin. Two white men assumed he was Japanese and went on a rant about the rise of Japanese-car imports that took away their jobs before murdering him in cold blood.
Imagine working, volunteering, and paying taxes like every other citizen. Imagine creating businesses that create job opportunities for more people, only to be treated differently because of their appearance.
Some Historical Roots of Racism in Canada and the United States
1. Inability to Testify in Court (1854)
In 1854, the United States did not allow Chinese immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americas to testify in court against Caucasians. It all started with a Chinese man who witnesses a murder. The court finds the Chinese race to be intellectually inferior to whites. Therefore, the testimony is invalid in the eyes of the law. Being unable to testify in court made the three groups vulnerable to mistreatment due to their inability to defend themselves in front of the law.
2. Chinese head tax (1885)
A law that states the Chinese immigrating to Canada should pay a mandatory $500 fee. The problem was, tax regulation was specific for the Chinese and no other races.
3. Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)
A United States law that barred entry to Chinese immigrants. Back in the day, West Coast Americans felt Chinese immigrants contributed to their declining economic conditions. Hence, the lawmakers passed the law that made it hard for Chinese immigrants to reunite with their families. Canada also exercised similar regulations in 1923.
4. Inspection of metalliferous mines act (1897)
This law existed in British Columbia, Canada. Chapter 27 of Mines (Metalliferous) Inspection law article 12, Chinese or Japanese persons were not employable for mining. Another line in the same law states banned Japanese and Chinese residents from operating mining elevator machinery.
5. Komagata Maru (1914)
The turning away of a steamship carrying Punjabs and Indians who tried to immigrate to Canada was an effort to deny Asian immigrants entry. The reasons are similar to how some political figures promote themselves today: immigrants take jobs away from the locals. Refusing entry during this time is discriminatory since this period Canada accepts many European immigrants.
What Racism Looks Like Now
According to Stats Canada, Southeast Asian (19%), Korean (27%), and Chinese (30%) report that they experience more harassment based on their ethnic background since the Corona Virus spread across the globe. In the US, hate crimes increase by 169% compared to 2020.
Asian Americans shun and blamed for spreading the virus. An irony, since the source of the pandemic itself, does not discriminate who it infects. However, the previous United States President remark, Donald Trump, who called COVID-19 the Chinese virus, successfully sparks hatred towards Asian descent. This kind of language allows people to blame Asians for the worldwide pandemic. Since then, Asians are no strangers to harassment and assault.
It is also still fresh in our minds of what happened in Atlanta only a few weeks back. Some members of the Asian-owned business become targets of a shooting. Even as the perpetrator denied the allegation that he was motivated by racism, we can’t rule it out as his motives since 6 out of 8 people who died are Asians.
How do We Combat Racism
Support victims of anti-Asian racism by learning to intervene in discriminative behavior by taking a course at Hollaback
Donate to an organization that brings awareness to anti-Asian racism
You can report to Fight COVID Racism if you encounter racism due to COVID 19 in Canada. In the United States, you can share your story at Stop AAPI Hate. Facing discrimination and harassment can affect your mental health. If you or someone you know is mentally struggling to cope and need someone to talk to, please call a 24-hour crisis center managed by Mental.
Health America at 1-800-273-8255. They can also call 1-800-985-5990 to reach
SAMHSA Distress Helpline.