Learning how to co-exist – Anti-Asian prejudice is theme of UBC’s national forum

Photo courtesy of UBC

“I was about ten years old, and I looked at myself in the mirror in my parent’s bedroom, questioning: Why was I born Chinese? I remember feeling alone and ugly because of my race.”

“People should not live in fear of not being accepted. I was born and raised in Canada; therefore, I should not be treated differently or not get the same opportunities because I am also Chinese,” says Helen, who did not wish to disclose her last name, about her experience growing up in a small town of south B.C.

Stories like Helen’s and many others throughout Canada, show a complex mosaic of experiences that portray a society in the process of learning how to co-exist. The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism will be promoting such conversations during a free bilingual online event that aims to bring together a diverse range of perspectives and experiences on the issue, and concrete recommendations for action in Canadian communities, June 10–11.

Acknowledging the rising of violence towards Asian communities during the Covid-19 pandemic, Helen agrees that rather than staying inside and maintaining social distance to keep others safe, a great number of people find it easier to put the blame on others, specially through racial profiling.

“This is scapegoating; some people find it easier to blame coronavirus on Chinese people because the virus was first reported in Wuhan. It doesn’t matter if you’re Korean, Japanese, Filipino, or belong to other East Asian ethnicities, to them, it’s “your fault because you look Chinese,” she says.

Indeed, with multiple racist attacks being reported during the pandemic, Canada has faced a rise in anti-Asian racism, including a 717% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes reported in Vancouver, according to the public statement by the UBC Psychology’s Equity Committee in March 2021.

The report points out that incidents of discrimination against Asian Canadians are often underreported and range from everyday microaggressions to racial slurs and threats to physical assaults.

UBC president and vice-chancellor Santa J. Ono also relased a statement in March 2021 on anti-Asian racism, announcing that the university would host a two-day virtual event in June. He pointed out that the more recent wave of anti-Asian rhetoric and violence amplified by COVID-19 is the latest chapter in a long history of violence.

Other stories: what to do after listening?

When invited to share points of view on anti-Asian racism in B.C., more people from Vancouver wanted to promote dialogue and debate ideas to make this community’s bonds tighter.

Vic C, an Indian immigrant living in Vancouver for 6 years, comments on the importance of discussing racism in a society that still categorizes bodies through the lens of race.

“I’m skeptical of people on the left who dream of a post racial society,” he says, understanding that “we all see colour and we all have our unconscious biases,” he says.

To him, COVID-19 allowed all the bottled-up hate against Asians to spew out. “The perpetrators of this hate attacked the most vulnerable in the community knowing full well that most of them wouldn’t be able to retaliate or wouldn’t know what to do to seek help. The virus was used as a decoy to instill fear and trauma,” he says.

When Sodam S immigrated from South Korea to Vancouver 5 years ago, race was experienced in different scenarios – and with different nuances.

“When I moved here, I felt somehow welcomed by other fellow international students – racism didn’t feel like an issue at all,” she says. “I started to feel different experiences when I worked at restaurants in the city. People would say things like “annyeonghaseyo (hello in Korean),” “Seoul” and “kimchi” for no reason. They saw me as Asian first, not as a person. To co-exist, we need to share our community with people, and that means with other races too.”

To Adrian O, an immigrant from the Philippines living in Vancouver for 12 years, the experience of arriving in this society to establish a new life is challenging enough and racism can be a big step to overcome.

He feels that the recent issues surrounding racist acts within the Asian community in Vancouver created more awareness – for both sides of the discussion.

“It created awareness to non-POCs, but also it made me aware to embrace the real me: that I am Asian and there is nothing wrong with that. That I am Asian, and I need to be proud of it. I feel like I gained confidence to voice out myself and start living a life without fear,” he says.

National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism

June 10–11, UBC will host the National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism, with speakers from across the country to have frank conversations about the articulation of bold and concrete recommendations for action. People interested can register for free and join the forum at: www.events.ubc.ca/national-forum-on-anti-asian-racism/.

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