Asian and South Asian Heritage Month has been celebrated in May since the 1990s and was formally recognized by the Canadian government in 2002. The occasion is an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of people of Asian descent while recognizing the struggles and unique histories of these communities.
Although Canada likes to present itself as a multicultural haven that celebrates diversity of all its peoples, the pandemic has exposed the deep fissures in our society due to systemic racism.
“Essential” yet low-wage workers are disproportionately racialized and are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates. Recent data shows South Asians and Indo-Caribbean people account for 27 per cent of infections in Toronto despite only making up 13 per cent of the population.
In neighbouring Brampton, the epicenter of the pandemic in Ontario now, rates are alarmingly high among racialized front-line workers in warehouses and factories. Their struggles are exacerbated due to lack of affordable housing, health system inequities and lack of economic supports.
Meanwhile, hate crimes against the Asian community have dramatically spiked, a pattern of violence witnessed across North America and most cruelly exhibited in the recent murders of Asian women in Atlanta.
These systemic inequities and prejudices are not new but can be traced to a long history of Canadian discrimination against non-white people, which includes specifically targeting people of Asian and South Asian descent.
The Chinese head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Canadians, the exclusion of South Asians from voting or running for political office, the Komagata Maru incident, among other historic injustices, serve as a reminder of the racist policies of the Canadian state.
And yet, people of Asian and South Asian descent have resisted, organized collectively, and even flourished across Canada. Consistent collective action exerted pressure on the government for apologies and redress for the victims of past injustices.
Today, Asian and South Asian activists lead labour, community, and activist organizations such as the Chinese Canadian National Council, the Caregivers Action Centre, the Council of Agency Serving South-Asians, and the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance. Asian and South Asian people are tightly woven into the fabric of the labour movement and society, and make valuable contributions to CUPE Ontario.
This Asian and South Asian Heritage Month, let’s unite to recognize the rich histories of Asian and South Asian communities in Canada, contribute to the ongoing struggle for justice, and resist the rising tide of racism that threatens equity-seekers everywhere.
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