Asian Heritage Month
Article by Denise Young MAct who offers empowering Keynotes, Training and Facilitation services to a variety of organizations in areas of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership and Communications.Development.
This month we are reflecting on and celebrating the many remarkable contributions that Canadians of Asian descent have made and continue to make in Canada. This year marks 20 years since the Government of Canada signed an official declaration to designate May as Asian Heritage Month.This year’s theme is “Continuing a legacy of greatness”. This month is a reminder for all Canadians to come together to combat anti-Asian racism and discrimination in all its forms.
China was blamed for Co-Vid which heightened anti-Asian racism especially towards East and Southeast Asia communities.. “After years of braying racist slurs and blaming COVID on China, anti-Asian racism that has always been covert, muffled, violently burst into random attacks on citizens. We have all felt it, we have all had to counsel our elderly parents to maybe stay home today, for a week or two, just to be safe. It’s a terrible feeling. In the country you call home”.It is these types of experiences why it is important for us to acknowledge this month and learn about the history.
Here are some commonly asked questions that were found on LinkedIN in regards to people asking how they can support and what this month is about?
Who is considered of Asian heritage?
There are so many different ethnic groups of people with ancestors originating in Asia that have had vastly different experiences of racism in Canadian history for generations. This has been especially apparent throughout the past, starting from as early as the 1880s, where the first Asians immigrated to Canada. These immigrants were mainly comprised of people with Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Lebanese, and Syrian heritage.
What are the major historical events in Canada?
Some of the most significant are the Chinese Head Taxes, the Japanese Internment Camps, and the Komagata Maru incident.These historical events perpetuated anti-Asian racism and have become a somber part of Canadian history. While there are certain major historical events that certain ethnic groups have experienced, they do not diminish the experiences of racism that other Asian ethnic groups have endured.
What is the Chinese Immigration Act and how did it come about?
The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 remains as one of the darkest acts in Canadian history..
Between 1881 and 1884, over 17,000 Chinese immigrants from mainland China arrived in Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway.
These Chinese workers made up three-fourths of all workers in total and were paid much lower wages than white workers.
After the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Government of Canada at the time imposed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885.
To discourage immigration from China and encourage immigration from Europe, the act demanded a head tax of $50 for every Chinese person who wanted to immigrate to Canada. $50 in 1885 is worth $1,376.56 today.
○ In the year of 1900, the head tax was raised to $100, which is $2,753.13 in 2021 and was raised to $500 in 1903, which is $13,765.67 today.
○ These head taxes greatly reduced the rate of Chinese immigration in that time period, which was a huge problem for the relatives of Chinese-Canadians living in China as they were not able to reunite with their family members living in Canada, many of whom were brought here to work on the railway.
In summary these workers were needed as a labour force but not deemed desirable as citizens because of their country of origin.Additionally, the Electoral Franchise Act of 1885 disenfranchised all immigrants of Chinese heritage, making them ineligible to vote in federal elections.
LInk to more information on this and other events are at end of article.
Yes, “we did not do this” but to move forward and end anti-Asian racism it is important to have an awareness and understanding of Canada’s history with the Asian communities. In addition to understanding the history, what else can we do?
What can we do to support Asian heritage in our workplace?
The below is a start but it is important that your organization culture is a supportive environment and that employees do feel included and that these activities aren’t just to check the box. The latter approach will do more damage to your workplace culture.
Employee resource groups
This month-long occasion is not only about celebrating Asian culture in May, but supporting members of the community yearlong. Asian employees should feel respected and valued at work at all times. Employers can empower Asian team members by launching an employee resource group.
Employee resource groups are groups where team members of similar identities gather to share similar experiences and brainstorm about possible workplace improvements. These groups create spaces where employees can be fully themselves and find solidarity with peers. These gatherings provide employees with a sense of camaraderie, belonging, and psychological safety, and empower team members to advocate for their ideas and needs.
If the company does not have an employee resource group for Asian staff, then Asian Heritage month is a good time to introduce one. If the organization is too small to sustain such a group on its own, then connect interested staff with a broader industry or professional group.
Care packages are one of the best virtual Asian Pacific Heritage month ideas. These goodie boxes permit you to treat and nourish remote workers while supporting Asian entrepreneurs.
You can send gifts such as snacks, coffee and tea, stationery, and decor to your work from home employees. For maximum impact, include a card with information about the business, such as websites and social media handles, so that staff can visit the store in the future if they enjoy the products.
Featuring Asian employees on social media or blog posts is a method of calling attention to the important roles these individuals play in the organization. Of course, you should always ask staff permission before posting.
Here are some questions you can use to structure your post:
What does being Asian mean to you?
What Asian figure do you think more people should know about?
What is your favorite cultural tradition?
What do you hope to see for the Asian community in coming years?
What is your proudest career accomplishment to date?
What is one professional goal you have for yourself?
How do you make the Asian identity your own?
What is one activity or dish from the Asian side of your culture that you think everybody should try?
Beyond your Asian heritage, what other identities do you hold dear?
These are just a few examples of talking points to share in your content spotlight. You could also hand the reins to the account over to the featured team members for a content takeover.
EBook: A Social History of South Asians in British Columbia. (Nineteen authors coming together to thread South Asian Canadian stories from 1897 to the present moment.
Denise Young, CEO/Founder/Consultant: Tiger’s Eye Advisory Group.Denise creates collaborative work spaces where “everyone is at the table”. She has a Bachelor of Management and a Masters of Arts in Communication and Technology from University of Alberta. Reach out to Denise, if your organization is interested in EDI, Leadership or Communication Workshops, Keynotes or Facilitation Services.
Connect with Denise:
LinkedIN: Denise Young