May marks the celebration of Asian Heritage Month, a time when we recognize the invaluable contributions of people of Asian descent to Canada’s social, political, economic, scientific, and cultural landscape. It is also a moment in which we acknowledge the resistance of people of Asian descent in Canadian history.
This year, we are observing Asian Heritage Month within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reflect on the month in a period of crisis, we can learn from the resistance and activism of people of Asian descent in their struggle towards social justice and human rights.
Some of these struggles include the fight against the Chinese Exclusion Head Tax, the internment of Japanese people during World War II, and the resistance against Canada’s ‘continuous journey’ regulation that restricted passengers of the Komagata Maru from entering the country.
While we consider these events to be a part of Canada’s history, it is also important to note that racism towards people of Asian descent is still rampant today. As labour advocates, it is important for us to learn from our country’s past mistakes. We must continue to look for ways to challenge systems of racism and discrimination. For many Asian Canadians, this has never been more evident than today, as Canada continues to grapple with COVID-19.
In recent months, there has been a surge in hate crimes against Asian communities around the world. In Canada, anti-Asian and often anti-Chinese sentiments have fueled racist aggression, and people of Asian descent, including front-line workers, are experiencing racism and harassment. This has given rise to unapologetic xenophobia and is actively working towards the erasure of the diversity among people of Asian descent. It has also furthered misinformation about the virus and, in some cases, has resulted in violence.
Looking back at the struggles of people of Asian descent in Canadian history provides a sobering lesson on the consequences of racial biases. In celebrating Asian Heritage Month, we must collectively learn how to “do better” in challenging racism and discrimination and decide how we can more effectively counteract these forms of oppression when dealing with a global pandemic.