Asian Heritage Month 2021
May is Asian Heritage Month, a time to reflect on and recognize the contributions that our Asian community members make to SFU and to the world. This year, however, acknowledgement of Asian Heritage Month must occur alongside acknowledgement of the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes that has occured during COVID-19, and recent acts of anti-Asian violence in Canada and the U.S.
In light of this, all throughout May, this page will hold space for self-identified Asian members of the SFU community to share thoughts on what Asian Heritage Month means to them, celebrate their heritage, and reflect on some of these difficult topics, should they wish. Reflections will be posted all throughout the month. Additionally, you can check out this video from SFU's Faculty of Health Sciences, which features Asian-identifying students, faculty and alumni discussing their challenges, successes and the importance of representation in the sciences and academia.
What does commmemorating Asian Heritage Month mean or look like to you this year?
Jeanifer Daet Decena | Student, Department of Psychology
I am Jeanifer Decena, from a southeast Asian nation, the Philippines. I am a mature undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts majoring in Psychology. Asian heritage, for me, is an appreciation of values, culture, and personal grit throughout this pandemic.
I am a healthcare worker, and I manage my time as a student and a worker gracefully. Being a healthcare worker is a challenging job. A large population of healthcare workers are Filipino. The rotating shifts can be hard to manage for a good work/life balance. However, when the pandemic was announced, everybody was scrambling, including me. It knocked me to the ground and blew my mind that we could get sick and die. The pandemic led me to become a silent survivor in the healthcare field while continuing my studies.
As healthcare workers, we were ordered to do a lot of things. There was no time to ask, no time to complain. Everyone was invited to prepare and make sure that everyone was safe and sound. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was always worn. Then suddenly, one of our residents got COVID-19. I felt so bad, but I could not do anything and was afraid because the person was on my floor. Then I was assigned to attend and do everything for this client, even though he was isolated. Then, the next day, another resident tested positive. Everyone was silently crying but continued to help and support the clients.
I don't know or understand how COVID-19 came to us. How did some residents get COVID-19 and others not? One thing for sure, it was airborne. It was transferred from one person to another, and before anyone knew it, some staff had COVID-19. It was that sudden turn that changed my perspective about life. I was silently crying while working but upholding my dignity and supporting everyone. I saw similar emotions from my colleagues at work. We didn't talk, and we did our jobs until everyone recovered and was vaccinated. I can't believe it, we survived!
As a student, I survived, too, with the encouragement of my professors, classmates, and friends in SFU. Supporting each other in the middle of a pandemic is a wondrous and massive thing for me, and as an Asian, this is what we do. We support each other. We will not let anyone look down on us. We are constantly working hard to keep everyone safe and sound. Asian hate will not prosper because we are here to face it, just like COVID-19. We face, stand for our rights, fight, and survive with dignity and respect. We expect the same for everyone.
Jocelyn Wong | Student, Department of English
Due to increasing AAPI hate crimes occurring throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, commemorating Asian Heritage Month this year looks different for me and my loved ones. While before we may have flocked to Chinatown for a classic Hong Kong style diner meal (complete with iced Ovaltine and a coconut bun from Maxim's), it's clear that this month in particular must be spent differently. And while this is a hard pill for me and my fellow Asians to swallow, we have always been resilient beings.
It's disheartening and confusing that we feel unsafe in a city we've called "home" for many years—but one thing keeps us together and fuels our hope for the future: our undying love and appreciation for the Asian culture.
Asian Heritage Month to me means honouring Asian tenacity, Asian storytelling and Asian love. It's about gathering around the table (or our laptops) with our favourite dishes and reminiscing about our diaspora journeys, our favourite Asian grocery store snacks, our character-filled grandparents and aunties and uncles, and more. And regardless of the amount of hate occurring around us, this sense of pride—this wealth of Asian knowledge, strength and vast histories—can never be removed.
Caro Garofalo | Student, School for the Contemporary Arts
Asian Heritage Month, in light of recent events, has shown me so much about the Asian community, and where healing needs to happen. How unique each of our stories is, and how most have us have met the same struggles—the struggle to belong in a society that sees you as "other", and all of the ways that that plays out.
I am a mixed race Asian American, my family being from Japan and China, Italy and Poland, but who came to New York City 3 generations ago. Needless to say, I deeply feel those who have shared here and said they have trouble connecting to their cultures and feel that it is not "mine" to claim. I speak no other language than English and have felt confused at times (as most mixed race people do) about where I fit into the equation of race and culture.
Asian Heritage Month has had me interviewing family members, researching the history of how the dominant culture's views of Asian people has gone the direction that it has, and doing my best to use my voice to help educate, and participate in change.
I have worked with Act2EndRacism, a union of all different Asian people in an effort to educate people on anti-Asian racism, and providing resources to combat it and protect the vulnerable, like the elderly and immigrants. I suggest checking out their resources if at all possible, and—if you are not Asian, it is a good source to educate yourself on what is currently happening.
I feel hopeful that these conversations and efforts will lead to more understanding, empathy, and inevitably change.
Marianne Huang | Student, International Studies and World Lit
It’s wonderful to see submissions by other Asians who are grappling to find their identity as Asian-Canadians and I would like to add my story as well.
My grandparents are from Xiamen and I speak English and Fujian/Minnan fluently (and no...it’s not Mandarin or Cantonese). It’s very rare for me to meet someone who can speak my family’s dialect and it can feel very isolating when fellow Chinese dismiss my dialect because it’s not one of the main dialects spoken. The very few times I feel less alone are when a store employee (usually from Taipei, Taiwan) overhears me talking to my mom and comes over excitedly to offer assistance. Yes, that’s how excited we get when we hear someone speaking in Minnan/Fujian. If you speak my dialect (or even if you don’t) don’t be shy, come over and say hi. I enjoy learning languages and can understand a little Korean; I hope to learn Mandarin and Japanese someday soon as well.
As the new interim DSU Representative for ISSA (International Studies Student Assoc.), I hope to promote engagement and participation as well as add another facet of diversity and representation to the current executive team.
For me personally, racism has always been there—just not as frequently overt until Trump was elected and especially now, because of COVID.
I’m doing my best to do my part and be active in a safe way:
- reporting incidents to Transit Police (via text 87777)
- supporting minority coworkers who are being harassed or verbally abused
- explaining to caucasian friends or colleagues when an issue is brought up and they do not understand the implications or backstory.
I hope more people will share their stories and know that they aren’t alone. I also hope more of us speak up for ourselves and for each other; when we do, the less isolated we become and the less power we give to those acts of racism.
Combating racism is not a one month or two month deal and not restricted to named ethnic cultures. It’s a lifelong commitment to education, to ourselves and our fellow global citizens.
Please stay safe and healthy.
Christina Wong 黃懿婷 | Senior Program Assistant - Outbound Exchange, Study Abroad Programs in International Services for Students
I am a third-generation Han-Chinese-Canadian born after my family arrived here during the early 1900s from China and Hong Kong. As I reflect on Asian Heritage Month, I give thanks to my paternal grandparents for their courage and sacrifice in making their brave journey from Guangdong, China to settle in Canada during a tumultuous period where they experienced racism, hardship and isolation. My grandparents instilled in their children the important values and beliefs about keeping strong family and community connections, and I continue to follow these principles with my own family.
I celebrate my Chinese heritage daily by speaking to my family in Cantonese, or cooking delicious Cantonese dishes that my mother taught me, or participating in Chinese cultural activities along with Canadian ones through-out the year. It is important to remember my deep Chinese-Canadian roots and to share my own cultural knowledge with my children so that they too can have their own reflections about their Asian identity.
Anti-Asian racism has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Vancouver has not been spared. We need to rise from passivity and speak up against racism. We need to voice our support, be allies, and to care for each other as racism happens. We are not alone in our fight against racism.
Let us celebrate Asian Heritage and not just during the month of May!
Tammara Soma | Assistant Professor, School of Resource and Environmental Management
This Asian Heritage Month, I would like to take some time to celebrate the diversity and the beauty of my Asian heritage, including my less-used (maybe slightly harder to pronounce) Indonesian name: Raden Roro Tammara Rica. I was born and raised in West Java, Indonesia, an archipelago of over 17,000 islands. Indonesia is home to thousands of ethnic tribes, cultures and languages. It was also colonized for hundreds of years by various Nations and only attained independence in 1945. I belong to the Sundanese ethnic group.
The way that Asians are often talked about in the media makes it seem like we are a monolith but this could not be further from the truth. As a hijab wearing Asian Muslim, I am often viewed as an "oddity." Sometimes, there are even individuals within the Asian community who would ask me why I wear a hijab. Since Indonesia is less known, some people would equate the entire Indonesian experience and existence with their experience of travelling to the island of Bali. Indonesia's food, culture, geography, and languages are also not well understood in Canada and I hope that as a faculty member at SFU, I can create more opportunities for dialogue and friendship with community members interested in connecting with an Indonesian-Canadian.
Terima Kasih (Thank you - Bahasa Indonesia)
Hatur Nuhun (Thank you - Sundanese)
Rachel Wong 黃曉曦 | Coordinator, Communications & Engagement, SFU Surrey
As a first-generation Chinese-Canadian, I never really felt I was enough.
It was usually obvious that I wasn’t Canadian enough—my skin colour usually caused some confusion. But among Chinese faces, it was clear I wasn’t Chinese enough, too. My broken, Canadian-accented Cantonese made me an ‘other’.
The otherness led me to resent my heritage: what and how we ate, the unusually complex language, the way people spoke behind my back thinking I couldn’t understand English or Cantonese. But as I learned about the treatment of Chinese folks in North America and learned more about their resilience, I knew I had to make up for lost time. Here were people who fought the good fight long before I even arrived, and they afforded for me the belonging that they were denied because they were an ‘other’.
In light of the rise in anti-Asian sentiment and violence against the community, I am convicted in the fact that my racial identity is not a mistake. Like many, I’ve grieved the loss of life and feared for the safety of my parents, my sisters and peers, and myself. But I know that now is not the time to remain silent. We need to check in on one another and call out racism when we see it.
This Asian Heritage Month, I celebrate my identity and am grateful for all those who paved a way forward for me in this body. May I continue that fight for future generations of Chinese and Asian-Canadians.
Natalie Lim | Communications Associate, SFU Communications & Marketing
Collecting my thoughts around Asian Heritage Month has never been easy for me.
As a third-generation Chinese-Canadian—my grandparents immigrated from China, and both my parents were born here—I didn’t feel particularly connected to my heritage growing up. I spoke Toisanese fluently when I was younger, but fell out of practice once I started school, and now I can only understand a few scattered words and phrases. A lot of the cultural aspects of my heritage were exchanged for Christian traditions when my parents converted. Going to school in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in East Vancouver, I rarely felt out of place among my peers, most of whom looked like me.
If I’m being honest, I sometimes have trouble talking about my Chinese identity at all because I don’t feel like I have the right to claim it.
I guess that's why I'm writing this.
This Asian Heritage Month, if you feel like me, if you're grieving a language or a way of life or a place you've never been, I want to say that I see you. I see you doing your best, doing the messy and beautiful work of figuring out who you are and who you want to be. I see you, so many of you, speaking out against systemic injustices to make this world safer for our elders and our communities.
I see you, and I'm with you—this month and in all the months ahead.