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Celebrating and uplifting the Asian community during AAPI month

May 25, 2021

During May, we celebrate AAPI month (Asian American and Pacific Islander). It is a time for all people in North America to highlight the contributions that people of Asian descent have made to society, which shaped the wonderful world we live in today. In December 2001 Senator Vivienne Poy (Canada) proposed a motion to officially designate May as Asian Heritage Month in Canada, this was signed into an official declaration in May 2002. In the United States, this month is known as AAPI month, to also celebrate Pacific Islanders.

Many noteworthy people can be mentioned during AAPI Month. But it is not only important to mention those that have made societal contributions, but we should also take time to remember those who we have lost and those who live every day in North American in a society that can be hard to navigate. Due to the rising acts of violence towards the Asian community in 2020 – 2021, the hashtag #StopAsianHate is widely used to combat very loud discriminatory voices. It should be emphasized that everyone should be treated with humanity, something the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) community has not been afforded. So this month I’d like everyone to celebrate with me and to stop the harmful stereotypes that contribute to the continued discrimination of the Asian community.

We should celebrate the many achievements the Asian community has made and remember that these achievements did not come easily. It is very seldom talked about the contributions that people of Asian descent have made to Canada, so I will spend the rest of this article talking about people I admire who are a part of my community.

Buckam Singh 

During the First World War. 10 men fought for Canada, a country that would deny them citizenship, and 2 of them were killed in action. Not much is known about this regiment, but we know they were Sikh people who served in the Canadian Army and were officially regarded as Canadians in 2013 when the regiment was officially recognized. Of this regiment, one person was granted an award known as the diamond jubilee and their name is Buckam Singh [1]. We now know that Buckam Singh was born in Mahilpur, Punjab, India, he immigrated to British Columbia during a labour shortage [2]. Due to a racist group known as the Asiatic Exclusion League, many South Asians faced extreme immigration challenges. Laws were instilled that required South Asian immigrants to need 10 times the amount Europeans needed in Canadian dollars to immigrate. They also had to complete their immigration journey in one continuous journey, which was almost impossible at the time. Buckam decided to enlist as a part of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and was one of 10 Sikhs who fought for Canada in World War I [3].


Shyam Selvadurai

Immigration is a major part of the Canadian landscape; it shapes our country more than anything else. We are lucky to have such a diverse group of people living in a shared space. Canada was a refuge for many people and one of these people is Shyam Selvadurai. He is a Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist [4]. He is best known for his novel Funny Boy which was published in 1994. The novel tells the tale of a boy growing up in a Tamil Family in Colombo. It explores the coming-of-age adieu to sexuality and brings to light the foreground for the Sinhala-Tamil tensions which led to the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, these riots were the reason Shyam Selvadurai and his family left for Canada [5]. Funny Boy won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award [6].

Roy Akira Miki

Another poet, scholar, and activist of notable mention is Roy Akira Miki. He was born in Canada in Ste. Agathe Manitoba to second-generation Japanese Canadian Parents. His family was forcibly interned during the Second World War. He was a strong advocate for racial inequities and sought restitution for Japanese Canadians who were forcibly interned. He is also the organizer for the Writing Thru Race conference that was held in Vancouver in 1994. The conference offered a space for BIPOC and Indigenous writers to discuss issues without the presence of white writers [7].

The tragedy of internment camps occurred around the world during the Second World War, intolerant fears drove countries into an illogical and racist line of thinking that to protect Canadian they had to intern members they deemed ‘unsafe for national security. This atrocity still affects many people to this day.

Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American author, activist, and feminist. She took a low-paying job in the 1940s at the University of Chicago, this was due to significant barriers to achieving the education she wanted [8]. She joined a part known as the Workers Party which started her on a journey of self-discovery and allowed her to focus on the struggles of the marginalized African American community. She was so heavily involved in the movement started by Malcolm X that the FBI had her listed in their files as a person of Afro-Chinese descent. This shows some of the bias that was had back then that still exists, even in 2021 [9].

Cecilia Chung 

Cecilia Chung is a Chinese American activist who is a civil rights leader for 2SLGBTQIA+ people and raises awareness for HIV. She is a trans woman who fought discrimination in every corner of life, including from her own family. During her transition, she had to quit her job and was fired from another. She eventually ended up a person without housing and become a sex worker to survive. This subjected her to violence which led to her being placed in a hospital where she was reconciled with her mother. She was diagnosed with HIV. She was a member of the San Francisco Transgender Discrimination Task Force which led to the city adopted anti-discrimination laws and policies. She also heavily influenced the representation of trans people at SF Pride [10].

Kalpana Chawla

Another noteworthy woman was Kalpana Chawla, she was an Indian American astronaut and the first woman of Indian origin to go to space. She flew on the shuttle called the Columbia, which sadly was lost during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Her contributions have been recognized in the USA and India where she is regarded as a national hero [11].

Haunani-Kay Trask 

AAPI could not be celebrated without celebrating Pacific Islanders. One of the notable mentions is a Hawaiian activist, author, and scholar known as Haunani-Kay Trask. She denounced the idea of being called a feminist due to its proximity to White American supremacy and focused on practicing feminism within her community. She opposed tourism to Hawai’i and the military presence of the United States in Hawai’i. She is strict in her criticism of American racist and colonial attitudes towards Hawaiian people [12].

Kim Coco 

Kim Coco Iwamoto is a Japanese American Hawaiian politician. She is a trans woman who spent her time doing activism and advocacy for youth and 2SLGBTQIA+ people. She decided she was going to run for the Democratic party primary as a member of the House of Representatives. She brings to light the idea that our votes do not count, as she only lost by less than 150 votes. She was recognized as a Champion of Change by President Barack Obama. She speaks out about her mother’s internment during World War II and is a constant advocate for treating people with respect and dignity [13].

There are so many more people I can mention. I could most likely have over 5000 words of just people I admire, but I want to leave you with this. During AAPI month, let us celebrate and uplift Asian people and understand that an Asian identity encompasses many different cultures. We must celebrate them all to progress as a society. This means we should take some time to do things like watch films, read books, donate to fundraisers, volunteer, and most of all spread positive awareness about all Asian identities. Then and only then will we have a Canadian society we can be proud of. 

References

General

Canada’s Library on Asian Heritage Month https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/asian-heritage-month/about.html 

Events in Canadian History surrounding Asian Heritage https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/asian-heritage-month/important-events.html 

[1] https://generations.regionofwaterloo.ca/getperson.php?personID=I109200&tree=generations

[2] https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2008/11/20/grave_confirms_early_sikh_fought_for_canada.html

[3] http://www.sikhmuseum.com/buckam/index.html

[4] https://library.ryerson.ca/asianheritage/authors/selvadurai/

[5] https://biography.jrank.org/pages/4724/Selvadurai-Shyam.html

[6] https://shyamselvadurai.com/

[7] https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/roy-akira-miki

[8] https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/06/27/417175523/grace-lee-boggs-activist-and-american-revolutionary-turns-100

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/us/grace-lee-boggs-detroit-activist-dies-at-100.html

[10] https://www.law.berkeley.edu/cecilia-chung/

[11] https://www.space.com/17056-kalpana-chawla-biography.html

[12] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/island-murder-hawaiians-remember-haunani-kay-trask/

[13] https://www.kimcoco.com/meet-kim-coco

By Arnetia Bishop-Kent