May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge, celebrate, learn and honour the rich history and contributions of the diverse Asian communities that call Canada home.
According to Statistics Canada, more than 6.1 million people identify as having Asian origins. These geographic identities span across over 30 countries in the Asian continent – from East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.
The contributions of the Asian community date back over 200+ years throughout Canada’s history. As early as 1788, Chinese artisans and carpenters helped build trading posts and ships. Almost 100 years later, over 17,000 Asians came to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Shortly after that, the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 imposed a head tax on every Chinese person seeking entry into Canada. This head tax was one of the earliest acts of racism and exclusionary laws against Asians in Canada.
In 1914, Indian passengers aboard the Japanese steamship the SS Komagata Maru were denied entry into Vancouver. They were not allowed to disembark from their ship and were forced to turn back.
While these events acknowledge the pain, harm and gross injustices faced by Asian communities – we must also take this time to recognize and highlight their resilience and successes. The contributions of Asian-Canadians can be seen across many industries and sectors including science, arts, politics, and sports. This also includes the long history in the labour movement and their significant contribution to business and the economy.
From Adrienne Clarkson, to David Suzuki, to Kim Thúy, to Hazel Mae – the list of notable Asian Canadians continues to shape and enrich our nation.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the leadership and excellence of individuals like Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. Her work and guidance continue to be critical in keeping all of us safe during this global health crisis.
Moreover, many of us have turned to online content to help us cope and get through isolation. It’s important to highlight the growing list of homegrown artists such as Mississauga resident Tamil Canadian Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, from the hit show Never Have I Ever and Toronto’s Simu Liu, star of Marvel’s upcoming first ever Asian-led film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
We must not forget that many people of Asian descent continue to face Anti-Asian hate, at even higher levels during this pandemic. We all know about these disturbing acts of violence. OPSEU/SEPFO continues to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Asian communities and our members of Asian descent, against these hateful and racist attacks.
OPSEU/SEPFO’s Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) will be hosting a virtual Asian Heritage Month forum on Saturday May 15, 2021 from 1pm-3pm. We hope to highlight and celebrate the contributions of Asian communities but also continue to keep critical conversations going.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Brian Gosine, Vice-Chair for People of South Asian Descent, OPSEU/SEFPO Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW)