The global pandemic in 2020 and prolonged local shutdowns have put pressure on all of us, but especially East Asian communities – who are being scapegoated because of the coronavirus and facing increasing incidents of anti-East Asian racism and discrimination. Toronto’s motto – “Diversity Our Strength” – has been put to the test. Resilience must be our response.
While we all share mutual and common identities of being both Torontonians and Canadians, the City of Toronto is asking allies in the fight against racism to acknowledge and learn about our diverse histories within the context of living in this city.
Anti-Asian racism is not new. It is entrenched in our systems and is intertwined with local and national narratives. Here are some ways you can help us to grow, thrive, and contribute:
Learn about East Asian diversity and the unique identities of those with family origins and heritage from East Asia or those perceived to be East Asian.
Abandon the myths of the “perpetual foreigner” and “model minority” in thinking and language (i.e. “Where are you from? Where are you really from? All Asian Canadians are engineers, accountants, doctors or lawyers.”)
Explore, celebrate, share, and accept East Asian stories in Canada.
Know that racism hurts the collective efforts of East Asian communities to build a thriving and prosperous Toronto and Canada.
Call out and challenge racism when you see it.
Learn About East Asian Stories
According to the 2016 federal census, there were 299,465 people (11.1 per cent) identifying as visible minority Chinese living in Toronto. The city was also home to 41,640 residents (1.5 per cent) of Korean heritage, and 28,045 (0.5 per cent) of Japanese descent.
Filmmaker Karen Cho travels from Montreal to Vancouver to undercover the stories from the last survivors of Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act. Through a combination of history, poetry and raw emotion, her documentary, “In the Shadow of Gold Mountain,” sheds light on an era that shaped the identity of generations.
In 1877, six years after Confederation, the first documented Japanese immigrant arrived in the province of British Columbia, but suffered disenfranchisement in 1895 under federal statute, and then further discrimination during and after the Second World War (1942-49), when they were sent into internment and exile from the west coast. All those of Japanese descent, including naturalized Canadians and those born in Canada were banned from living in the city of Toronto between 1942 and 1945.
The first Korean migrants to Canada were seminary students sent here by Canadian missionaries. Korean migration to Canada boomed in the late 1960’s and continues today.
An award-winning video by Justice Maryka Omatsu, the first female, Canadian Judge of East-Asian descent. The video details the injustices of racial discrimination faced by Japanese Canadians for over 60 years culminating in the unjust use War Measures Act.
A documentary about Raymond Moriyama, world-renowned architect, whose works include the Toronto Reference Library, the Ontario Science Centre, Scarborough Civic Centre, Bata Shoe Museum, and the Canadian War Museum. He discusses his family’s experience with the extremities of racism he and his family endured and how he transformed these experiences into an architecture of inclusion and democracy.
Historian Henry Yu describes the experience of racism in Canada during COVID-19: “White supremacy historically has relied on defining non-white ‘races’ as abstract categories that generally are not coherent and blaming non-whites for things that aren’t their fault.” Chinese people have been blamed for spreading the virus but targeting those who are mistaken for Chinese but aren’t is still wrong. “It’s never a ‘mistake’ to ‘get the wrong non-white,” Yu explains. Whether or not the target is actually Chinese or not, harassment and mistreatment of others should never be warranted.
The numbers tell the story of anti-East Asian racism in Canada:
A telephone poll in April 2020, comprising 1,130 respondents in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, conducted by the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice found that one in five people do not think it’s safe to sit next to an Asian or Chinese person on a bus if they don’t wear a mask, while a quarter said they “don’t know” if it’s safe. Four per cent said they believed that all Chinese or Asian people carry COVID-19, and 10 per cent were uncertain.
Since the pandemic began, more than 400 incidents of racial bias, from micro-aggressions to hate incidents and hate crimes, have been collected through the “Fight COVID Racism” tracking tool.
A report to the United Nations on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance documents the increase of racism and xenophobia as a result of COVID-19. This report highlights stats, key issues, and recommendations.
Did racism distract from early warnings and East Asian community mobilization against COVID-19? Listen to CBC’s The Current radio show host Matt Galloway and his interviews with Toronto-area Dr. Stanley Zheng and Aaida A. Mamuji, associate professor of Disaster and Emergency Management at York University (segment begins at minute 00:22:30 and ends at 00:45:30).