Asian Heritage Month was officially designated in 2002, after the Honourable Vivienne Poy – the first Chinese-Canadian senator – introduced a motion in the Senate to create the commemorative month and celebrate the contributions of Canadians of Asian descent.
As Canada marks Asian Heritage Month in 2023, eight senators share their reflections on what this means to them.
Senator Salma Ataullahjan
With the rise of anti-Asian racism and discrimination during the pandemic, I believe it is particularly important to celebrate Asian Heritage Month. It can serve as an educational opportunity to shed light on the challenges and barriers many Canadians of Asian heritage have faced in the past and continue to encounter today. It is also a moment for the community to come together to celebrate our diversity. Simply realizing that our differences as individuals are a strength as a community can go a long way. Outward differences, such as our looks, what we eat or how we speak, do not change the fact that we ultimately share similar aspirations. As the first Canadian senator of Pakistani origin, I am proud to show young Canadians of Asian heritage that it is possible to make a difference.
Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer
I was born in Uganda, but my ancestors came from Gujarat, India. My family’s story is one of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. Although my father had been elected to the Ugandan Parliament, racial tensions came to a head when Idi Amin seized power. We were forced to flee because of our race, but Canada welcomed us with open arms. I had the privilege of becoming Canada’s first Muslim senator, first African-born senator and first senator of South Asian descent. I take my role as a representative of these communities very seriously. I am proud to be part of a country that values and celebrates its diversity.
Asian Heritage Month is an important time for me, not just because it’s a chance to celebrate my heritage, but because it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come as a society in embracing diversity. It is an opportunity to reflect on the contributions Asian Canadians have made to this country and to celebrate our shared experiences. I am proud of my heritage and grateful for the opportunities that Canada has given me. I hope we can continue building a society that values diversity and celebrates the many different cultures that make up our country’s rich history and future.
Senator Yonah Martin
As we celebrate Asian Heritage Month this May, I am reminded of the pioneers, heroes and champions of Asian descent whose courage and sacrifices have built the firm foundation upon which I stand – a foundation forged in blood, sweat and tears. I think especially of my beloved father and mother, the late Lee Sung Kim and Kye Soon Kim, two such courageous pioneers (of the Korean-Canadian community) who struggled at various points in their immigrant journey, but who ultimately loved Canada for all the opportunities that she afforded our family. During this month, I look forward to sharing such immigrant stories and celebrating the achievements and contributions of Asian Canadians, past and present.
Senator Sabi Marwah
The value of recognizing people’s heritage is subtle, yet important. As a country, we commemorate a number of communities, ethnicities and cultures in the form of heritage months. This gives us, as a nation, the opportunity to shed light on the unique characteristics and contributions of various communities.
Asian Heritage Month is a time to remember, to celebrate and to educate future generations about the contributions that Canadians of Asian heritage have made, and the valuable role that they have played and continue to play across the country.
As a Sikh and a member of a visible minority group, I am aware of the issues of racism and prejudice faced by many in minority communities. Such responses have much to do with the lack of knowledge of the history and values of such communities. Hence, by recognizing and celebrating our rich multicultural heritage, we create an opportunity to enhance the knowledge of different communities – which in turn contributes to an environment that encourages inclusiveness, cross-cultural dialogue and mutual respect for all.
Senator Victor Oh
My immigration story characterizes well the strength of this great country. The sense of acceptance upon arriving in Canada was immediate. I was fortunate to be welcomed and housed by the Goh family until I could get on my feet. Toronto quickly became home and I was riveted by the multiculturalism of the city, even back then. With the help of the local community, I was grateful to be able to integrate. As I settled into my new life, my appreciation of the Asian community’s impact on Toronto and on the country at large grew. I became very aware that these distinct immigrant communities house countless stories of sacrifice and achievements. I am continuously amazed by the industriousness of this community. From entrepreneurs who confidently establish small businesses to those who enter the fields of service to help those in need, their efforts benefit us all. During Asian Heritage Month, we highlight this meaningful impact on this great country, both past and present.
Senator Ratna Omidvar
The accomplishments and contributions of Asian communities in Canada are honoured during Asian Heritage Month. This is a chance to recognize the various histories, cultures and traditions of Asian people who have significantly enriched Canadian society. It’s also a chance to consider the difficulties and discrimination that Asian Canadians have encountered in our culture and still do.
Asian Heritage Month provides a platform to highlight and amplify the voices of Asian Canadians, to share their stories and experiences, and to celebrate their contributions to our shared history and future. Let us take the opportunity to listen, learn and appreciate the richness and diversity of Asian cultures.
Senator F. Gigi Osler
As we celebrate Asian Heritage Month, let us take a moment to recognize the invaluable contributions of Asian Canadians to our country’s history, culture and prosperity. From entrepreneurs and innovators to artists and community leaders, Asian Canadians have played a vital role in shaping Canada. They have brought with them unique perspectives, traditions and values that have enriched our communities and helped us build a stronger, more inclusive Canada.
But we must also recognize that there is still much work to be done to address the systemic inequalities that affect many communities. Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to renew our commitment to social justice, equity and inclusion. We must work together to create a society that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone, regardless of their background, culture or ethnicity.
Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia
Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to learn more about the many achievements and contributions of Canadians of Asian descent who, throughout our history, have helped weave the very fabric of our society. While we celebrate the incredible diversity that is our strength, we must also be resolute in our stand against all forms of anti-Asian racism and discrimination – a stand that has been demonstrated within and beyond my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Increased education, awareness and representation are essential to building a more inclusive Canada.
Senator Yuen Pau Woo
Asian Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Asian Canadians and to salute the successes and countless contributions of this diverse community. On the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, however, this year should also be a time of sober reflection on the rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada over the last few years and how it came about. There are insidious new forms of exclusion emerging in our society that seek to label, stigmatize and silence individuals because of where they come from, whom they associate with and what they think. Modern-day exclusion seeks to distinguish between Asian Canadians who are acceptable and those who are not. It is a product of ignorance, fear, groupthink and ideological excess. Asian heritage is more than festivals, songs, dances and traditional dress. It is also about the right to belong.
Senator Andrew Cardozo
Asian Heritage Month is an important way to acknowledge the presence and contribution of Canadians of Asian heritage here in Canada. It’s not about other countries but people whose origins are elsewhere and are here. I think of some great Asian Canadians who have made and continue to make major contributions. I think of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Tommy Shoyama who was interned in his youth as a Japanese Canadian but yet rose to be Deputy Minister of Finance. I think of Olympian figure skater Patrick Chan; Piya Chattopadhyay, host of the Sunday Magazine on CBC Radio One; CTV anchor Merella Fernandez; McGill University Principal Deep Saini, Globe and Mail Reporter Tu Thanh Ha; author Rohinton Mistry; Hockey player Nazem Kadri, actor Sandra Oh, Toronto Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa and of course Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, who so capably guided us through COVID. All award-winners of some kind, and there’s a much longer list and they all make our lives better.
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