Still plenty of ways to celebrate Asian Heritage Month, ‘expand your world view’ during pandemic

By | May 10, 2020

Asian Heritage Month 2020 is unlike any that we have experienced in the past 18 years of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba.

Founded to celebrate Asian-Canadian heritage, culture and arts, while recognizing their contributions to society, all the free events normally held depend on social gatherings and bringing communities together.

Think about it. It is now easier than ever to discover Filipino stick dancing (tinikling), or a video of a K-pop troupe, dancing to the latest BlackPink hit. 

To learn from a martial arts demonstration, or find a recipe for that Korean noodle salad you love so much. 

The world is truly a smaller place. 

But how do we celebrate this in a time of social distancing?

Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba has Facebook and Instagram pages, where you can find pictures and links, promoting Asian-Canadian culture. Many community groups also have websites where you can find information.

Most local performing groups even have YouTube videos. 

Winnipegger Jenny Heijun Wills’s award-winning memoir Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related is among the books you could dive into to celebrate Asian Heritage Month, suggests Wong. (McClelland & Stewart)

Beyond that, check out award-winning films by celebrated filmmakers, like Deepa Mehta (Water), Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) or Domee Shi (Bao). 

Read a book by authors like Wayson Choy (The Jade Peony), or Winnipeg’s Jenny Heijun Wills (Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.).

Learn to make a Thai curry from scratch and marvel at the culinary alchemy that results in one of the most delicious dishes on the planet (my opinion).

Now is the time to find inspiration and expand your world view.

Stigma, xenophobia increase during pandemic

However, it isn’t all about dancing and kung fu and food (though those are all great).

Asian Heritage Month addresses serious topics too, such as the plight of refugees and combating racism. 

Multiculturalism is a beautiful thing, and a part of what makes Canada a great country to live in. 

Openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, the search for equality and justice: these core values are what draw people here from all over the world. 

Sharing dance, culture and celebrations with Manitobans at public gathering places like The Forks has long been a part of Asian Heritage Month, says Wong. (Winnipeg Chinese Media)

The world is a more integrated place, but all this yin has its yang. 

Social bias, generational and culture gap, misinformation and discrimination are all symptoms of our social complexities come to bear. 

When people are scared or upset, they look for someone to blame– Alan Wong

The more we diversify, the more we need to understand and accept each other to cohabitate peacefully. 

Since the early days of this global pandemic, there has been increasing stigma and xenophobia toward Asian-presenting citizens around the world.

It does not matter if they are Japanese or Vietnamese, or if they were raised abroad and have never even been to China. 

When people are scared or upset, they look for someone to blame, and “othering” is an easy gut reaction. 

The stigma ranges from subversive behaviour (like avoidance of Asian restaurants) to outright public shaming and verbal abuse — and in the worst cases reported — random assault. 

For this reason, many Asian organizations — including ours — around North America have created reporting mechanisms on their websites. 

This allows people to anonymously report incidences of Anti-Asian behaviour due to COVID-19. 

You can find ours here.

If you have been the victim of a crime, of course, you should report directly to the police. 

It cannot be overstated: we are all in this together.– Alan Wong

This reporting form is for any situation that isn’t a crime. 

The goal is to collect the data for future analysis of the effects of the harmful anti-Asian rhetoric that has been spread by those distastefully politicizing this pandemic. 

What is so unfair (and ironic) about it, is that here in Manitoba and in many parts of Canada, a disproportionately high percentage of essential workers putting themselves at risk of exposure, are of Asian descent.

Wong urges Manitobans to find different ways to celebrate Asian Heritage Month, without the traditional — and very public — celebrations of song and dance. (Winnipeg Chinese Media)

By showcasing culture, art, and traditions, Asian Heritage Month serves as a reminder that we have more similarities than differences, and it is so important to remember that right now. 

Whatever differences we demonstrate are beautiful and enrich our communities. 

It cannot be overstated: we are all in this together. 

Everyone has someone they care for that could be affected by this horrible virus, and we should be focused on fighting it together. 

Fear does crazy things to people, but it is bravery and understanding that will help us overcome the worst of it.

This column is part of  CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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