Written by Malissa Phung
On December 6, 2001 the Canadian government adopted a motion proposed by Senator Vivienne Poy to officially declare the month of May to be Asian Heritage Month in Canada.
Since 2002, in major cities across the nation, cultural festivals, art and photography exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, literary readings, theatrical performances, documentaries, and radio shows have been produced throughout the month of May to not only bring attention to the histories of marginalization and oppression of Asian migrants and their descendants but also to commemorate the achievements and contributions of Asian Canadians to Canada’s national building project.
While it is important to both remember these histories of oppression and acknowledge the marginalized labour of Asian migrants as important contributions to Canada’s economic infrastructure and national heritage, it is equally important to not lose sight of Canada’s ongoing settler colonial policies towards Indigenous peoples and to remain vigilant of the ways in which Canadian multiculturalism disciplines and manages difference even as it openly supports such efforts to address and correct historical injustices.
As admirable as such efforts to commemorate the culture and history of Asian migrants are, recent backlash against “illegal” migrants or potential “terrorists” across the globe indicate that achieving human equality is far from being realized. We need to be wary of the ways in which history repeats itself. In the words of Rita Wong from her poetry collection, Monkeypuzzle, “now head taxes apply/to all immigrants/not just us”—that is, in the form of landing fees.
For more information on Asian heritage in Canada, check out the following links:
- Virtual Museum of Asian Canadian Cultural Heritage (launched by the Asian Heritage Month-Canadian Foundation for Asian Culture Inc.)
- 2010 Asian Heritage Month Festival Events in GTA (there are still exhibitions being held throughout May; most notably, Wayson Choy is delivering the 3rd Asian Heritage Lecture, “Asian Identity: Becoming Canadian” at York University on May 25)
- CBC radio and video programs
- Asian Arts Freedom School (an art-based radical Asian history and activism program for Asians/Pacific Islanders in the GTA under the age of 30. They hold creative writing, media, and performance workshops with a heavy focus on community activism and Indigenous solidarity. Cycle 10 of their creative writing workshop has already started and ends June 1!)