With the spike in Asian hate crimes and the increasingly discriminate anti-Asian rhetoric, your friendly neighbourhood Asians are needing a little more tender, love, and care this year.
May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. In the words of our government, it “is an opportunity for all Canadians to learn more about the many achievements and contributions of Canadians of Asian descent who, throughout our history, have done so much to make Canada the amazing country we share today.”
In Canada, we pride ourselves on our diverse heritage and proudly call our nation a mosaic of cultures. The term “mosaic” is imprinted at an early age into every kid’s education — the concept that in a mosaic, different cultures are encouraged to keep their traditions and values while nestled alongside others.
Canada’s identity as a mosaic has been in place since the 1970s with the Official Multiculturalism Act in 1971. Whether you agree or disagree with the execution of Canada’s multiculturalism policies over the past few decades, I hope we can at least agree that Canada has been at the forefront of multi-culturalism at a global level.
The fact that the Government of Canada signed an official declaration in 2002 to designate May as Asian Heritage Month is a further acknowledgment that Canada wouldn’t be the Canada we know and love today without our rich and diverse background.
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But why should you care?
Well, who doesn’t enjoy indulging in drunken Chinese food binge eating? Just kidding!
Great culinary contributions aside, Canada wouldn’t be the Canada we know today without the contribution of the Asian community for the past two centuries.
Dating back to 1788 (79 years before Canada became a country), the Chinese were on Vancouver Island helping British fur trader Captain John Meares build his trading post. And between 1881 and 1884, over 17,000 Chinese were in Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Nowadays, we may not think much of our railway infrastructure but at the time, it was considered one of Canada’s greatest feats of engineering. It connected Canadians from coast to coast and united the nation — literally.
This means that the Chinese didn’t just contribute to Canada’s history. They built the backbone of this country.
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If you’re thinking, “Sure, sure, but that’s ancient history,” let me paint for you what Canada would be like without the contribution of its Asian communities.
It would be a culinary barren wasteland.
Your dinner take-out options would boil down to not much more than pizza, burgers, and fries. Maybe pasta and meatloaf.
You wouldn’t have the brilliant colors and spices from Indian curries or the delicate and fresh flavors of Japanese sushi. You wouldn’t be able to indulge in the warm comfort from a steaming bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup or the delightful pungency of Korean kimchi. You wouldn’t be able to taste the culinary array of Chinese dim sum or embrace the heartiness of the Filipino adobo.
There wouldn’t be the punches of umami from ingredients like soy sauce, fish sauce, miso, and seaweed. Flavors like sesame, lemongrass, turmeric, and chiles that are now commonplace would never have made an appearance in the Canadian food scene.
Heck, you wouldn’t even have rice! This would all disappear under the umbrella of something “exotic”.
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Not a fan of food? Not swayed by the culinary contributions of Canada’s Asian heritage?
First, you’re soulless. Second, how do you live? But okay, I can play ball.
Let’s talk sports. Let’s look at the Olympics — competition on a global scale where athletes represent their countries and the rest of us mere mortals stand behind them with our support.
From Chinese-Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan to Vietnamese-Canadian wrestler Carol Huynh, one of my favorite things about the Olympics is seeing our nation come together to support our athletes. When these athletes bring home their Olympic medals, it’s a win for all Canadians, not just Asian-Canadians.
And it’s not just about the medals. Remember the 2014 Sochi Olympics when the whole nation watched anxiously with bated breath after speed skater Gilmore Junio, a Canadian of Filipino descent, gave his spot in the 1000 m race to fellow teammate Denny Morrison? Morrison then went on to bring home the silver medal in this event, but this story is about much more than an Olympic medal. It’s about what it means to be Canadian.
It’s a beautiful time when the color of our skin doesn’t divide us. Rather, we stand united and proud under our Canadian flag. Let’s make this an everyday reality.
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From Canada’s humble fur trading roots to the construction of the nation’s Canadian Pacific Railway backbone, Asian-Canadians have played an important historical role in Canada’s past.
These diverse cultures continue to shape and contribute to Canadian society today in far too many ways to name. From sharing their food, customs, or their way of life to representing the nation on the global stage, Canada wouldn’t be the Canada it is today without the contributions of its Asian-Canadians.
Against the backdrop of Stop Asian Hate, it’s never been more important to support and lift each other up. So this month, let’s celebrate Asian Heritage Month — together.