Asian Canadians in Vancouver arise to battle COVID-19 prejudices

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      Here’s a question for those who have assaulted people who appear to be East Asian or have vandalized their property during the COVID-19 pandemic: what is it, exactly, that you think you are achieving by doing so?

      Perpetrating an anti-Asian attack on someone who has absolutely nothing to do with the cause of the coronavirus, including those born here or who have never set foot in Asia, hasn’t stopped the pandemic. Guess what? It’s still here.

      Like anyone who seeks revenge upon others, any sense of perverse gratification from such acts is fleeting.

      What follows is the need to fend off any sense of guilt or remorse, and to block self-awareness, which requires a prolonged mental effort. That’s in addition to any efforts required to hide yourself from the police or the public if you’ve been caught on video.

      And in the end, it doesn’t resolve the real problem, which is an internal—not external—source of unhappiness, discontent, or anger.

      Anti-Asian racism and Sinophobia that has been simmering in Vancouver based upon issues such as real estate and money laundering have escalated during the pandemic to give rise to some of the worst examples of discrimination that many people have seen within their lifetime. That includes attacks on those who appear to be of East Asian or Chinese descent, including a First Nations female punched in the face after being mistaken for Asian and a Filipino immigrant on a bus who endured Sinophobic slurs and death threats against him and his family from another male passenger.

      When the Vancouver Police Department released its crime-statistics report on October 27, it revealed that anti-Asian hate-crime incidents increased by 138 percent this year compared to last year.

      Meanwhile, a national report on attacks on Asian Canadians from several Asian Canadian organizations stated that more than 600 incidents of anti-Asian racism were reported from seven provinces during the pandemic. What’s more, British Columbia had the largest number of reported incidents per capita in North America and 70 percent of these incidents in B.C. have involved female victims.

      With all that in mind, here’s a look at how Asian Canadian communities have responded and what they have to offer.

      Best examples of health compliance

      For years, Asian people in Vancouver have worn masks when sick, as is customary in Asia, to protect others from transmission. Asian Canadians were among the first to voluntarily respond with precautions, abandoning shopping malls and restaurants and donning masks even when B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry hadn’t ask anyone to do so.

      Is it any wonder that Richmond, with its prominent Asian population, has had the lowest case numbers in the Lower Mainland? From January 1 to November 5, Fraser North reported 2,409 cases, Fraser South had 5,867 cases, and Vancouver had 3,600 cases while Richmond only had 434 cases total. Also, back in June, Henry revealed that the virus had largely been transmitted in B.C. by travellers from Europe, Eastern Canada, and Washington state—not Asia.

      So again the question is: why attack those of Asian descent, particularly those who are doing their best—even more so than some other individuals—to protect everyone from the virus?

      Best proof that Asian Canadians ain’t gonna take it

      Several awareness campaigns to counter discrimination, involving screen stars such as Ludi Lin, Steph Song, Tzi Mah, Osric Chau, John Cassini, Gabrielle Miller, Fiona Forbes, Benjamin Ratner, Sandy Sidhu, and more have been launched, such as Vancouver marketing agency Hamazaki Wong’s Health Not Hate and the Vancouver Asian Film Festival’s Elimin8hate. The latter, along with the federal government’s Fight COVID-19 Racism website, have been collecting reports of racist incidents during the pandemic.

      In addition, numerous anti-Asian assault or vandalism victims across Canada have gone to media to raise awareness about their experiences, with images of suspects broadcast as well.

      Back in May, North Vancouver–Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma recorded an articulate argument that explained how Canadian rocker Bryan Adams’s rant about the pandemic arising from “some fucking bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards” feeds into anti-Asian racism by encouraging people to embrace their biases and prejudices. As she pointed out, “nobody is safe when hate crimes are allowed to thrive”.

      Best signs that others ain’t gonna take it either

      Politicians from Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart to B.C premier John Horgan have denounced these attacks. But what can be particularly effective is when bystanders, particularly non-Asian people, intervene. As noted above, several non-Asian people got involved in antiracism campaigns.

      There have also been a few examples of others attempting to stop racist attacks, including bystanders calling out racists in viral videos and a woman who stood up to protect two female Asian bus passengers from a racist verbal assault. Anyone who thinks that no one will blink an eye at assaults on Asian individuals needs to think again.

      For proof of historic loyalty to Canada by Asian Canadians, the Honour Rolls at the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall display photos of Japanese Canadian Second World War veterans.

      First Chinese Canadian museum to be in Vancouver

      Amid all of this, the provincial government has made it clear where it stands. The B.C. government announced on July 16 that it will provide $10 million in funding for a Chinese Canadian museum in Vancouver, which will be the first of its kind in Canada.

      The Chinese Canadian Museum Society of British Columbia launched the temporary exhibit A Seat at the Table: Chinese Immigration and British Columbia in August, and the exhibit, which explores Chinese Canadian history through culinary culture and restaurants, will open at the Museum of Vancouver on November 19.

      Best historical evidence of Asian Canadian loyalty to Canada

      If you question how loyal Asian Canadians are to Canada, consider these examples.

      Victoria-born veteran George Chow, who died on November 6 at the age of 99, was among the approximately 600 Chinese Canadians who served Canada during the Second World War. Chow fought for the liberation of France, and France honoured him with its highest order of merit: the Légion d’honneur.

      Meanwhile, November 11 marked the 100th anniversary of the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park, which was dedicated on April 9, 1920, to the 222 Japanese Canadian men who answered the call of duty for Canada in the First World War and the 54 men who died in the conflict.

      Some of the most prominent Asian Canadians from Vancouver

      For those who haven't really given much thought about what Asian Canadians have contributed to Vancouver, take a moment to reflect upon where we would be without numerous significant Asian Canadian individuals from Vancouver.

      For starters, consider actors Grace Park, Kristin Kreuk, Terry Chen, Byron Lawson, Olivia Cheng, and Tommy Chong; filmmakers Julia Kwan and Mina Shum; chefs Angus An of Maenam and Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo’s; media personalities Sook-Yin Lee and Ziya Tong; authors Evelyn Lau, Kevin Chong, Wayson Choy, Joy Kogawa, Roy Miki, Madeleine Thien, and Jim Wong Chu; dancers Chan Hon Goh, Alvin Tolentino, and Kokoro Dance’s Jay Hirabayashi; the late queer punk rocker Ken Chinn (Mr. Chi Pig) of SNFU; visual artists Ken Lum and Paul Wong; architect Bing Thom; former Vancouver police chief Jim Chu; politicians Jenny Kwan, Mabel Elmore, Henry Yao, Bowinn Ma, George Chow, Katrina Chen, Teresa Wat, and Anne Kang; and environmentalist David Suzuki.

      And that’s just to name a few.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.