ANTI-ASIAN RACISM UNDONE

Pulse of the Moment: Check In with Asian-Canadian Activists Across the Country

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Livestreamed on May 29th, 2021 

Full Transcript:

Monika Kin Gagnon: 

Hello, my name is Monika Kin Gagnon. I am sending you greetings from Tiohtià:ke or Montreal, the unceded traditional territory of the Kanien:keha'ka, or the Mohawk, who are the custodians of the lands and waters, from which myself and Mei Chiu are speaking to you today. Welcome to Pulse of the Moment: Activists Check-In from Across the Country as part of the anti-Asian Racism Undone event for the weekend. We’re the opening panel, and I'm just absolutely thrilled to be convening seven amazing participants from Halifax to Vancouver. 

 

We have one hour together. And so we’ll be going from the East coast in Halifax, to the West coast in Vancouver, and each person will be introducing themselves. I do want to say that there are longer extended bios that are available on our website, which is off the scholarstrikecanada.ca website. So each participant will have eight minutes to speak, although our two participants from Thunder Bay will be sharing 10 minutes. And they will be starting with a brief field report from their location, about the current concerns around anti-Asian racism from the place where you are, then moving on to community activism and resistance. And each person is going to be ending with a call to action, a thought, an idea, a challenge or an offering of some kind that they are suggesting, that you can carry with you over the course of the weekend. So without further ado, I would like to first introduce Lu Xu who’s coming to us from Halifax.

 

Lu Xu: 

Thank you, Monica. I'm really happy to be here today to talk about anti-Asian racism here in Atlantic Canada. Just a little bit about myself. So I moved to Halifax in 2016. We've lived here for five years now. Prior to this I was in Melbourne Australia as an international student. Halifax is actually the only Canadian city that I've lived in long enough to, I guess, have an understanding of. 

 

So, I was born and raised in mainland China and in northern Jinan, a northern province in China. And I've worked in Halifax as a journalist, worked in migrant research as a journalist, my role is to report on social issues and my focus has always been the diversity of the city, diversity issues and racism and immigration. So I'm really happy to be here to be able to talk about this because, again, I'll read this in the next few minutes. Like I think not a lot of people are coming forward to talk about racism here in Atlantic Canada, especially compared to the rest of the country. 

 

So I guess I'll start by talking about a story that I worked on as a journalist when I was in the newsroom, and it's a story about a national survey about anti-Asian racism. So you probably heard of it. It's a national survey, I'll just pull it up very quick. So it is the COVID-19 - it's called "A Year of Racist Attacks". So that is the survey that I was tasked with and I was going to report on it. And I remember you know, looking at the report and the numbers in Halifax is really, really low. So, which on the surface was supposed to be a good thing because you know, you'll see a rocking high number in other regions of Canada and when it comes to Halifax, Atlantic Canada, you can see the number just dropped significantly. So I brought it up in the interview with the professor at Dal. And even before he answered, I sort of figured I probably would have guessed his answer, because I knew there was something wrong there. And he said, I'm a professor who studies race. And he's pretty well known in the community as well. But before this call, I have never heard of the survey. So just because we don't see a high number of self-reported cases, doesn't mean that there's no racism here. 

 

And I really, I couldn't forget what he said, I was really listening to the conversation we had the other day. And I think that's the problem, I would say the biggest problem, as a journalist, here in Atlantic Canada, is that not a lot of people are willing to come forward and talk about it. Very, very often, when I interview a subject and they're often in a very vulnerable situation, they're always like, can you, is really the right way, they're very timid, they come from another country, or they're their visa, they're the temporary status expiring, and they really don't want to rock the boat, don't want to anger the authority, that's has always been what's holding them back. 

 

So, that story, I got to talk to another activist. And this professor who shared his opinions on racism here, in Atlantic Canada, and as a person of color, working this profession, I've also come across racist attacks and here, living here. So just to recap, I don't think there's enough people coming forward, and that's for legit reasons, because a lot of them are worried about their status here in Canada.

 

There’s also this hush hush attitude, when it comes to racism here, because we're kind of this forgotten part of Canada, we're known for being really nice, it's a small town, and everybody is so nice. You know, it's true, it is a nice town, and people are friendly on the street, they stop their car for you, and all these nice gestures, but that doesn't mean there isn't racism here, just because not a lot of people talk about it. In a small city, it's hard, I feel like you pay a higher price if you come forward. It could be a great place to practice journalism, but you don't want to anger your neighbor, you don't want to say something that would endanger your small tight networks that you probably would rely on in the future. So nobody really wants to come forward. They want to let it slide. 

 

And another story I did specifically about anti-Asian racism, I interviewed one of probably the oldest immigrants from China, and she was telling me how ashamed her dad was. To a point that her dad wasn't even ready to share with their own children about the racism they received, when they were here, the Exclusion Act, they weren't allowed to open businesses, that they're of their interest. And then my subject told me, this has always been what their parents told them, they want them to assimilate. So, hearing those stories, it's pretty traumatizing as a journalist, because hearing them telling about their sadness, their encounter with racism, and just this general fear of speaking out. 

 

Another thing I wanted to point out is that through the years of living here, I realized there really needs to be an institution here that could provide a safe place, constructive advice for those people who do want to come forward so that they know they're not alone. So that going forward, we’re able to bring more attention to this issue, because it is a dire situation. That brings me to the call of action of my part of this whole panel. I know that people in bigger cities might feel less fearful when it comes to talking about this issue. So in a small town, if you're watching this, and you were in Atlantic Canada, is there any way we could improve this, just so that we could provide a platform for those people? So when I interview professor next time for another story, maybe the professor would say, yes, you know what, I've heard of the survey before and I’ve read it, and this is what I have to say. Okay, thank you. That's all for me.

 

Monika Kin Gagnon: 

Thank you so much Lu, some of the issues that you're pointing out in terms of the historical dimensions of the racism against Chinese communities, as well as the kind of vulnerability of some individuals, women, and also seniors, who have been largely targeted by racism are incredibly important points. So thank you very much. And thanks for that call to action, too. I'd like to now invite Mei Chiu from Montreal, Tiohtià:ke.

 

Mei Chiu: 

Hi, good afternoon, everybody. And thank you so much for inviting me to your panel. I'm a member of the Progressive Chinese of Quebec. It's an organization that was founded about five or six years ago, and our mandate is explicitly to fight anti-Asian racism, in particular sinophobia within the province of Quebec. But we do this through an intersectional perspective, And also we are in solidarity with other oppressed groups in Quebec. And so that's why we've done, or I've participated, for example, as soon as Bill 21 was passed out for the rest of the country, Bill 21, is a bill that took away equality rights from religious minorities by banning people from wearing Religious Science in certain professions. So I've done things like, participate in a 50-hour fast to protest against the passing of this bill. And in the past two years, I've been an activist with Extinction Rebellion, trying to push the environmental movement into an analysis that includes climate justice, because if we don't understand the causes of climate change, and the effects on racialized people, and the dispossession, and the colonization process over the world, we will never be able to beat them, to save our planet from the devastation of climate change. 

 

So basically, those are a few words about myself, I'm 56. So I mean, I could probably talk for a long time about all the stuff that I've done, but I'm really excited to be here to talk a little bit about anti-Asian hate and racism against some Asians in the province of Quebec. But first I'd like to talk a little bit about the context of trying to fight against racism in Quebec, which is a province that is dominated by a French minority within the Canadian context. What's been really unfortunate is that instead of understanding and working in solidarity with other oppressed groups, the Francophone majority in Quebec have chosen to look towards ethnic nationalism as a solution to preserving their rights and their identity. Which means that their strategies include, questionable practices, like monopolizing the claim to victimhood in the province of Quebec, and refusing to recognize their double status, as, you know, being a dominated minority in the context of Canada, but also as settlers on stolen land, and who in turn become oppressors of other minorities in Quebec. 

 

And so it makes fighting racism in Quebec really challenging and actually, we were not even able to speak about racism publicly before, I would say the SLAV incident. And the SLAV incident happened when there was a very famous Quebec director who decided that he was going to do a play about the history of slavery. And he hired almost mainly white people to star in this play. But there was a huge protest by the Black community, and that's why I think that we're indebted to the Black community because the activists who protested very publicly cultural appropriation and different manifestations of racism, they were the ones who really were able to break through the public barrier to talking about racism here. 

 

With respect to the history of anti-Asian hate, Lu spoke a little bit about the head tax, which I won't get into. And then more recently - you know, in Quebec, I mean, people say really unacceptable things. And again, because we weren't used to talking about racism, we're not used to being educated about what racism is, people get away with it. So for example Mr. André Boisclair, who was the leader of one of the major opposition parties in Quebec, got away with calling Asian slanted eye people at conferences. Two years ago, another political party, which is now a major opposition party, spread fake news about Chinese predators going into the Quebec regions to buy agricultural land, and leaving the Quebec people to starve. The Chinese can take protests against us, but we're still waiting for an apology. 

 

With the advent of COVID-19, the sanitation crisis, what happened in Quebec was that it unleashed as a spate of attacks against cultural and religious signs in Montreal. And also around the same time, a Korean national got stabbed in the neck. And so that unleashed an entire - over a year of horrendous attacks against Asians of all nationality in Quebec. When Lu was referring to the national report against anti-Asian hate, at the same time, the police in Montreal reported that there was a fivefold increase anti-Asian hate incidents in Montreal between 2019 and 2020. 

 

Now, however, I would like to say that even though proportionally the reporting of hate crimes did increase numerically, there were still very few, we're talking about less than 30, I think there were 28 reported hate crimes or hate incidents to the police. But I think that although Lu touched upon, I would say, like some cultural or social reasons for the inhibitions to report, I think that here there are also really political reasons. We've had experiences of being victims of racism by the police. A lot of racial minorities, we don't trust the police. People have reported incidents in the past, and they were not taken seriously by the police. And so when you have a racist police force, that does not encourage us to turn to them for solutions. In Quebec, we have the Quebec Human Rights Commission whose mandate is to protect every Quebecer’s equality rights. They're so dysfunctional, they get things wrong, it's really hard, they screen out a lot of complaints, and so I think that there's also a distrust and a cynicism about what kind of institutions exist to protect our rights, especially our equality rights. 

 

Okay. Maybe I can just end by saying that after a whole year of these attacks, our group organized the first huge march against anti-Asian hate and racism on March 21. And I think that what was really great was that it englobed numerous people from numerous struggles, lots of allies, people from the Black Lives Matter, from the South Asian communities, Bill 21 activists, climate justice activists, activists fighting for people with precarious status. We also coordinated with Stella, so because what spurred on the organization of the march was the Atlantic killing where the killer targeted Asian sex workers, and so we wanted to be in solidarity with racialized sex workers especially. 

 

So and presently - just to end my presentation - after a year of experiencing all kinds of anti-Asian hate and racism, the energy and the frustration that has been building up, we think we've transformed this energy into a campaign to save Chinatown. Like I said, the pandemic attack began with attacks against our religious and cultural monuments, and so Chinatown being a really important part of Asian identity in Quebec. You know, for years we've been fighting against gentrification, big real estate development, we have a small Chinatown in Quebec. And what little there is, is being threatened by all these forces of capitalism. And so right now we've had an amazing campaign there, there we have a real possibility of making gains. We're networked with organizations across the country, and actually across North America, who are doing the same thing, trying to save their Chinatown's from extinction. 

 

And a challenge that I'm going to leave you with is that in Montreal, Chinatown, on both ends, bookending, Montreal small Chinatown are two Indigenous shelters. And so one of our challenges in terms of saving Chinatown is to try to educate our own community about acknowledging and embracing our Indigenous neighbors. So the challenge that I would throw to our speakers across the country, wherever you may be, is to try to do a decolonial gesture that would bridge your racial community with Indigenous peoples.

 

Monika Kin Gagnon:

Mei, thank you so much for that. Wow, you sure packed in a lot of information, statistical details and solidarities. So thank you so much. It's no surprise that we see you here in Montreal and Quebec on the news quite a lot as a spokesperson. So thank you, Mei. I'd like to now turn to Angie and Dale, who will be speaking together from Thunder Bay. 

 

Jayal Chung: 

Hi everyone. My name is Jayal, and I'm co-presenting with Angie. We're joining from Animikie wekwedong, traditional land of Fort William First Nation Robinson Superior Treaty. I'll highlight a few ways that art has been a way to talk back to racism and colonialism in Thunder Bay. We're a city known for its giant heart, but also a site for anti-Indigenous racism. 

 

As a self taught artist born and raised in Thunder Bay, I found community and empowerment in individual and collective art making. Growing up, I didn't see actions directly addressing anti-racism here, but I know that persons that look like me made contributions with multicultural association, Chinese association, labor union organizing, food, culture, education, etc, and are part of a social economic fabric imagining future generations. Here I support grassroots organizing, and this looks like occupying public space, standing together in solidarity, listening, learning, capacity-building, Rajean if you could help share that image. In 2017, Northern Feminisms Collective presented Poetry Against Racism, organized by Tania Maki Chahal, local poets like Jana Rae Yerxa, Ardelle Sagutchaway. Feminists, Indigenous and racialized people and settlers brought our voices to the streets. 

 

It was a collective expression after a white man violently attacked Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman. Prior, a seven youth inquest saw coverage by national media too. This message of “Take care of each other” came to me in 2017, and I painted illumination outlining structural racism and knowledge that we are medicine. The moon symbolizes magnified racist conversations sparked in response to the swing bridges burning in 2013. This bridge connects a rez and our city. A six-year legal case between CN railway and the city took place to determine who would make repairs. The OIPRD struck a systemic review of the police that are being released as well. Where do people turn to if they can't fully trust systems to respond with care and without bias for everyone? 

 

I started tracing the lines back in a self reflection into how systemic racism and colonialism works through me, and also how I resist it. The painting that you see, that is read, it honors my grandpa incorporating an image transfer of head tax that he paid. The image next to it is a self portrait part of a group exhibition, Queer Landscapes, Queer Intersections. Canada 150 prompted a collaboration to ask similar questions. And with guidance from Two Spirit Elder maneesha kabe and two friends Farah Ahmed and Sarah Nelson, we formed Bridging Resistance Radio Project in 2018. We centered Indigenous and racialized peoples’ experiences in Thunder Bay. Racism, settler colonialism and sexual violence, they intersect. 

 

And in 2018, I was invited to work alongside artistic director Denise Bolduc, Michelle Derosier, Cynthia Elders, Mini and Rita, youth artists and a team of Indigenous women to help host a traveling art gallery in a shipping container. It was called Sexual Assault: The Road Show created by Jane Doe. I chose Patterson Park. It's a park that directly faces the courthouse. Many people of all walks of life crossed paths with us. Jane Doe refused to be victimized. She won an 11-year legal battle for negligence of Toronto Police. 

 

My final message here, before I pass it to you, Angie, is that artists and cultural workers are creating an embodying culture. When we see how individual incidents of violence reflects patterns of systemic oppression, we're offered the choice to be complicit or to make change. My invitation is for us to think about tending our relationships. Tending may be something that is growing. Now I'll pass it to Angie.

 

Angie Wong: 

Thank you, Jayal. Hi everyone. My name is Angie Wong. And like Jayal I'm currently speaking to you from 1850 territory in Thunder Bay. I've lived here for about three and a half years. I'm a second generation Chinese person, born and raised in Canada. I was born in Calgary Alberta, actually Treaty Seven territory and I come to Thunder Bay by way of Toronto, actually, where I had lived and worked for about six years. 

 

In terms of Asian Canadian involvement and activism and education in Thunder Bay, I would like to know the ways in which migration, labor and precarity intersect here, first by looking at two fellow Asian Canadian members of the Lakehead University community who passed away this month. Dr. Balaji Venkatesagowda passed away on May 14 in India from complications caused by COVID-19. And if you've been following the news in that part of the world, you may know that COVID has really ravaged that country and its healthcare system. Balaji was a part of Lakehead University's Biorefining Research Institute between 2010 and 2017. He was a prolific researcher and publisher in biology and chem. But despite his research and experience, Balaji faced great difficulty finding employment in Canada, and at the end of one of his postdoctoral projects he had to return, was forced to return to India with his family at the end of 2017. So he'll be greatly missed by our colleagues in Thunder Bay, as well as friends around the world as well. 

 

Another Asian Canadian member of Lakehead University, Dr. Min-sun Chen passed away on May 18. He was a history professor at Lakehead University. He joined the department in 1966. And he taught East Asian histories for about 20 years until he retired in 1986. But I mean, long after that, for more than 20 years after his retirement, he was a lifelong supporter of international students and access to universal education. For instance, in 2017, Dr. Chen and his wife, who was professor emeritus of sociology at Lakehead, the late Dr. Anita Beltran-Chen, donated generously to Lakehead University and this resulted in the building of the International Student Lounge in our Chancellor Patterson library. Doctors Chen and Beltran-Chen give back to their scholarly community by providing a space a safe space for international students to meet, to build relationships to one another, and to learn about the space. Their legacy has provided a lot of hope for newcomers who come to Thunder Bay, sometimes for the first time, and sometimes alone. 

 

So speaking in terms of spaces of hope, Thunder Bay is also home to the International Friendship Gardens which hosts like these monuments for about the 18 different ethnic groups that live in and around the Thunder Bay Area. So they shout out the Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Indian peoples as well. I believe Jayal’s grandfather's name is also on the plaque representing the China Pavilion. So thank you Jayal to you and your family too for making these spaces for us and for others in the future as well. We also have folks in Thunder Bay who are active members of the Asian Canadian Labor Alliance who brought forth to our city council to endorse May 10 as the National Day of Action Against anti-Asian racism, which started in Burnaby, BC with the women of Stand with Asians Coalition, so shout out to the west coast. Thanks for all the great work that you're doing, and for including us as well. 

 

So to that end there's a lot of work being done here in Thunder Bay, both visible and invisible, and there's a lot of community love and support here, as Jayal has really shown me as well. On that note, we have some ideas, Jayal and I brainstormed just two ideas that are independent calls to action to help challenge, destabilize, and counter - not just anti-Asian racism, but racism more broadly. First, we think that by practicing self-reflection in the broadest sense, just even in this moment, one can come to a deeper understanding of how relationships and boundaries have really shifted during COVID-19. Self-reflection is hard work. But it can be dignifying, and it can help us understand our individual relationships and responsibilities to the land, as well as to building compassion for other communities and members in our community in need. 

 

Second, and this goes with the self reflection part - create things, create things that help you work through or express those complex internal negotiations. We encourage you to write a short story, poetry, a long story if you like, create a piece of artwork, go through your family photos, if you have access to them, even if you're never going to publish it or show it to anyone. That's not the point. Right? Do it to take care of your own consciousness. For instance, I feel very lucky that I have the honor and privilege to write about the activist legacy of the Asianadian magazine, which was one of the country's first social justice magazines created entirely by and for Asian Canadian. So thanks very much for the opportunity to share what we've been doing here in Thunder Bay, and thanks for having us a part of the conversation as well.

 

Monika Kin Gagnon: 

Jayal and Angie, thank you both so much. I feel like we've just gotten an amazing tour of Thunder Bay its inhabitants and citizens and activism that's happening there. So thank you both so much for your thoughtful presentation. I'm now going to pass it over to Maribeth who's here from Winnipeg.

 

Maribeth “Kilusan” Tabanera: 

(Tagalog greeting?) Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Maribeth Tabanera, aka Kilusan (couldn’t catch this). I'm a queer Filipinx femme multi-disciplinary educator, artist and activist, so thank you for inviting me to be here today in community. I'm a second generation settler born and raised, and still residing in Treaty Number One, the original lands and waters of the Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininiwak, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation. My ancestry is of Tagalog from Navotas, Manila and Visayan from Tangalan, Aklan. I've been working as a high school teacher in the Seven Oaks school division for nine years now, and I'm so proud to work in this diverse community and vibrant neighborhood. Our city is small but mighty. And we have a long history of grassroots organizing and resistance to oppressive forces. 

 

I want to give you a little bit more context around like my community that I specifically work in. It has a significantly high number of Filipino, South Asian and Indigenous folks, representing 70% of the POCs in the area, which actually make up 75% of the area. So many of my students live in multi generational homes, with parents and grandparents, working in a central service, health care, and other public facing jobs. Our youth have been, and are currently taking care of their family right now, during this period of virtual learning. And many of them are actually working frontline jobs, so putting themselves at greater risk. 

 

I really worry about the mental health of our youth because the discussion around the topic of mental health and IBPOC families is still taboo or in developmental stages, or completely off the table. So what I've observed is that our youth are scared to express themselves and are often leading the conversation in mental health. So I would call to action our adults to make space and listen and learn and take action when our youth are speaking out. So we're asking the most of them right now. So we must offer them support when we can for them. 

 

In October, I want to specifically mentioned the Maples Care outbreak that happened in our community where 157 residents and 56 workers were infected and we lost 56 of our elders to COVID-19, and may they all rest in peace. We hurt because of this event. Because especially it was avoidable. Before the pandemic, the PCs were already defunding the healthcare system. And when this outbreak happened, MCH was critically understaffed. The grief and pain of this outbreak reverberated throughout our community, and many students and their parents were directly impacted by this event. 

 

On April 10, the Globe and Mail published an article specifically speaking to the heavy brunt that Filipino Canadian community has been carrying. There have been 1900 cases of COVID-19 logged among Filipinos in Manitoba, from May to December. We make up 7% of the population here but 12% of the COVID cases. So the province is the worst hotspot right now in North America. Over the past two weeks, the surge in COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed our ICUs here, forcing people to go to other provinces. I have to say rest in peace to Elaine Morceaux, she died on Monday waiting to be transported to Ottawa. 

 

So honestly, our government has failed us. They have continued to not acknowledge the harm that they have caused our community, especially because of the defunding of health care and their disregard for the lives of the most vulnerable. We as people keep getting the blame, but it's really clear that our government is prioritizing profit over people right now. In March the PC government also introduced an Education Modernization Act into legislature which is highly problematic, includes system-wide changes that lack evidence of their impact of improving educational outcomes. It's widening existing systematic discrimination and equalities. It's authorizing a provincial Education Authority Board to implement policies about potential sensitive curricular content, like 2SLGBTQ* content and partisan politics, opening the door to regressive curriculum. And it's going to eliminate our elected school boards and the ability of citizens to shape educational policy with parent councils - which, we know participation has always been far easier for those with ample time and income. The passing of this bill will certainly ensure that those parents from working class, Indigenous, refugee, immigrant and single parent households are going to be less likely to be heard.

 

 I believe, in my opinion, this bill to be anti-democratic, anti-BIPOC, discriminatory and a danger to our racialized students and their families. What our community needs right now is a multi-prong anti-poverty strategy, not more standardized tests to kill our children, spirits and the passion for learning. The maintenance of wellness amongst our community has been an ongoing challenge over the past 15 months due to the isolation, loneliness, uncertainty and fear of racism and violence. We are exhausted, tired of virtual learning and working, tired of missing out important life events, tiring of seeing our elders abused and violated. We miss the moments of being enjoy, where we could laugh, we could play, we could be with our family and friends. We miss spending time with our loved ones. We long to see each other's faces in real life, to be in community and be in relationship with one another. 

 

With all that being said, our youth continue to inspire me every day, with their courage and their strength, resilience and hope. Our youth have taught me so many lessons this year. And when we return to in person schooling in September, students were hopeful for the year but also open to the possibility of adapting. Students were patient, respectful to everyone, and despite the new structure of schooling, they still managed to continue to learn and dive deeply into the topics that they were interested in. Most of all, students were grateful to be in a safe and caring and loving environment. 

 

Our community continues to mobilize and build coalitions. Shout out to the Seven Oaks Filipino Employees Association, Cultivation Festival, ANAK, Manitoba Filipino Business Council, Prairie Asian organizers and Asian Heritage Manitoba. It is in ourselves, our community, our elders and our ancestors, where we can find knowledge, strength and resilience to keep fighting the good fight. We must continue to prioritize, to take care of ourselves, our family, friends and community. I urge you to continue to do whatever it is, COVID safe, that makes you feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually well. When these domains are in a state of balance and abundance, we can experience hope, and use that as a vehicle to move us forward into a brighter future. So now I'm just going to share one of my most helpful tools that brings me peace. It is to be present, it is to be embodied and and be in breath, so I hope you enjoy my dance performance. Salamat po sayama gay. Thank you. 

 

[Maribeth Tabanera’s Dance performance]

 

Monika Kin Gagnon: 

Oh my gosh, Maribeth, That was incredible. From beginning to end. You took us on such an amazing journey. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you for that energetic conclusion too. I think it's reenergized all of us. Alright, so now I am going to pass it to jaqs. jaqs gallos aquines.

 

jaqs gallos aquines: 

Oki, () jaqs gallos aquines. I was born in Tiohtià:ke. And I grew up here in the traditional territories of Niitsitapi Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes Siksika, Kainai and Piikani nations, the Tsuut'ina and the yarheng Nakoda Nations of the Chiniki Bearspaw Wesley. And also we recognize Métis nation Region Three. I'm a queer Philippinx photographer, writer, musician and anti-racism consultant here in Mohkínstsis, currently known as Calgary, Alberta, and also a founding member of Bahaghari, a 2SLGBTQA+ Philippinx grassroots group, and editor of  Home is in the Body: 2SLGBTQIA+ FilipinX Femme, North of the 49th Parallel. I’m also a member of the Cultural Instigators, a group of 10 artists and activists working to disrupt white supremacy in the art sector and in our communities as well. We're all BIPOC people who live and work in Treaty Seven. 

 

So Calgary, or Mohkínstsis, is a city whose main industry is energy and extraction, where white supremacist culture is normalized in the conservative landscape. And it's been almost a year since the City of Calgary held a public consultation on racism, which was prompted by the murder of George Floyd on May 25 last year. And after dozens of heart wrenching, horrific stories from Black, Indigenous, racialized people from the city, finally the city has recognized systemic racism is actually a thing. And that was launched by the work of Iman Bukhari from the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation, petitioning to have that consultation. And this has made very niche work of anti-racism into the forefront. It's brought it into the forefront of not only just focusing on diversity, inclusion, but actually questioning and interrogating what equity actually means in workspaces and in how we live and work. 

 

So, in Calgary, we really are looking at fighting overt racism. On the assumption that many Filipinos working packing plants and in frontline, where 60% are Filipino, and who have been hit very hard, Filipinos are not welcomed in grocery stores, in banks, they've been turned away. The elderly are impacted on the daily. Just recently, even a Middle Eastern North African person from Edmonton was attacked on the street. Somebody pulled over and attacked him. And right now the Chinese communities are impacted. Gabriel Yee of the Chinese Walking Club, started an organization where they walk people if they don't feel safe in Chinatown here in Calgary. And Theresa Wupa of Act2EndRacism addressed that though many nonprofits are starting to collect data on anti-Asian hate crimes, a lot of incidents go unreported. And this is adding to what Lu and what Mei were saying, that really disruption of white supremacist culture is a challenge. We are prone to being complicit in the way of not being able to stand up, and it's partly due to a culture of silence. 

 

So, even though we don't sometimes report, that's part of the challenge, like where we have Act2EndRacism looking at ways to contribute to the racial data of hate crimes, there needs to be different ways of doing it. For example, building relationships with elders in our communities, because we do feel safer talking to people within our communities and not having to call a number or report it online, where it feels very detached. Also, systemically, we need to look at how racist temporary foreign worker immigration policies impact Filipinos and Asians and Mexicans where we’re de-credentialed and where the five-year PR application is based on nomination by employers. And except for only highly qualified people, it's only limited to a few numbers of people. As well, we have to examine, interrogate how people are treated in the healthcare system, and unsafe workplaces. 

 

So right now, some of the work that's been done within the Philippine community is vaccines for undocumented people working with doctors and health professionals who share our values, it was open to all, and it was based out of the Mosaic Clinic, the Primary Care Network, where immigrants and refugees were welcomed to come to an onsite vaccination. So with no questions asked really, it was just to make sure that it was done properly and with certain questions for recording. And then also we have to force public systems to support these responses, and community advocacy, because this pandemic is hitting racialized communities at a higher rate than white people, we really have to see how frontline workers who are not nurses or doctors are being impacted. 

 

So for the community work that is currently happening, Bahaghari, the organization I’m part of, last year we held a discussion on anti-racism in partnership with ANAK in Winnipeg, and Rise Tribe in Toronto, to Lion in Vancouver, and several other organizations on discussing our own implicit biases, and examining what anti-Blackness looks like within the Filipino community. And it was very enlightening and understanding that it shapes how we see ourselves as well. And there's a distinction between first gen and second gen impacts on how we move in examining those lenses. 

 

We also hosted on May 7, an event called Don't Just Be a Black Square: Creating Safe Online Spaces for BIPOC. Because this is the new norm, this space where we're constantly online, and having to create space that isn't regularly monitored, where zoom is actually quite vulnerable to intersections of security. We do need to be consistent, which I'm thankful that this team is constantly considering top of mind. And right now, the queer Philippinx and BIPOC communities are extremely impacted by isolation. So like with Bahaghari, we have also made space for speed meeting, which sounds really strange, but relationship building is essential in order to just feel like we are part of something, and we're not isolated in a way that makes it more challenging to manage mental health as well. And the youth empowerment program through Fiesta Filipino has also been focusing on work on mental health spaces for youth, and they're consistently working on that with a really good team from Fiesta. 

 

So I mentioned that I was also part of the Cultural Instigators that is funded by CAD, the Calgary Arts Development, and led by Cesar Calla, community organizer and JD Derbyshire, an artists and inclusive designer. We are currently working on a $250,000 grant funded by multiple streams, and it houses three spirals, that is built on Janaya Future Kahn’s penguin spiral model where the coldest penguins are in the center, and the warmest ones are on the outside. And every decision guiding this framework is, who's the coldest? Who are the most impacted by systemic barriers? So we have three spirals, with center spiral Indigenous-led, guiding much of the work which is both focused on cross-nation relationships, the Black-led spiral focused on developing artists and writers, and the third, racialized folks where we're looking at examining the culture of silence. And that is where we're examining anti-Asian impact, because clearly our community is building around it. And we have invited many other artists within Treaty Seven.

 

So another way of breaking the silence is also working through CBC, where the programs that Will Tigley has been part of have examined stories that are specific to the Philippinx community. And CBC is looking at it as a model, in hiring more than just one racialized journalist, where other CBC networks are modeling it after Calgary. So it's also looking at, what does public broadcasting mean, and who is telling the story? And another great move in the community is, community-wise, Resource Center has removed an organization from their building who has harmed many Black and Indigenous, South Asian and Filipino friends of mine who have worked there. And this is when the board is aligned with the goals of equity, and are ensuring that their members are also aligned with those goals. 

 

So, my final call to action is with community building and organizing to lead with consent and move with care, move with slowness, and resist the call to urgency. Give people time to plan. And we need to also - and it is a hard way to operate, as consent is the antithesis of racism and white supremacist culture. So and that's something that Fatimah Mann mentioned at the Decolonizing Relationships event last two weeks ago, which was hosted by the Decolonizing Unconference. I pose to the community to be diligent, and to always ask who is missing from this space? And how can I make this space more accessible, and to build conflict resolution processes into your organizing? Because solidarity is a really hard thing to have now, especially when everybody is challenged on an individual level. Thank you so much for inviting me into the space.

 

Monika Kin Gagnon: 

Thank you. Thank you so much jaqs for your contribution. I'm going to, we're on a tight schedule. So I'm just going to turn it right over to Kirsten Emiko McAllister in Vancouver. Thanks, Kirsten.

 

Kirsten Emiko McAllister: 

Greetings, everyone. I'm Kirsten Emiko McAllister, and I'm a faculty member at Simon Fraser University, where we're working with a small group in my department to try and deal with colonialism and racism, and it's so ingrained, it's quite daunting. But I'm also a member of the Japanese Canadian community. And a lot of what I've learned is from my activist mentors in the community from different generations. 

 

My mother's Japanese Canadian, my father's Scottish German, and both families go back four generations. And so my identity is very much the result of the government's racial elimination plans for Japanese Canadians. So I claim my identity as Japanese Canadian. The last time there was a study done, it's over 90% so-called intermarriage - it's very heteronormative term - in the Japanese Canadian community. So just points to the complexity of identity in all of our communities. And what does that mean? I mean, I've heard members of our community referring to hafu like myself as the dilution of the Japanese race, everything from that to a celebration of multiculturalism. So I think there's a lot of work to be done in each of our communities. 

 

So I want to begin by acknowledging I live and work on the unceded territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations as an uninvited occupant. I also want to say that race is an insufficient category in and of itself for understanding anti-Asian racism. I think there's a lot of discussion about how if we get rid of racial hate, we'll resolve racism, and we'll be accepted as Canadians. But what that means, if we're going to accept that type of discourse about about belonging, then we're being complicit with colonialism. And the fact that Canada's existence depends on the destruction and removal of Indigenous people and their systems of governance and their land relations. It means a failure to recognize the capital accrued from enslaved Black people, their ongoing dispossession within the Americas and overseas, and it means the invisibilization of exploitation of migrant workers and workers overseas, that feed the larger, very destructive global capitalist system. So that's my opening statement. 

 

As you've all probably been reading, Vancouver has had a 717% increase in reported hate crimes against Asian-identifying and Asian Canadian residents. That's just within Vancouver, and the population of Vancouver is 650,000. That's a very small proportion of the actual violence, and it's not new. Not at all. British Columbia was the historic landing for Japanese Canadians, Chinese Canadians, South Asians, Southwest Asians. And it's also the site where legislation was developed to eliminate them, to remove them from the population and construct them as undesirable. So this is a very small proportion of the 717% increase is a very small proportion. The larger metro area of Vancouver is actually 2.4 million residents, and of that 2.46 million residents, 2.5% are Aboriginal - which is quite terrifying, if you think of why there's only 2.5% -1.2% are Black, and 45.3% are Asian-identifying. So if you think that we are the capital of racism in North America, and we have almost half the population are Asian-identifying, that's, again, quite terrifying. And it points to the ingrained systems of anti-Asian racism, as it's connected to a larger colonial system, and global system of destruction. And I think it's really important to continue to remember that larger system as all of you have been doing in your presentations. 

 

But in as much as this area on the west coast of Turtle Island is the site of this racist legislation of colonialism, it’s also the site of activism. And that activism goes back over 100 years, from massive labor organizing by Chinese Canadians in the late 1800s, to efforts by Japanese Canadians in around 1900, to launch a lawsuit against the government for restricting the riding votes. So the activism here is also what constitutes us and has continued to constitute us. I really want to point to the cultural activism, also on the coast, and the important role it's played. More recently, for example, in the 1970s, there was the Paraguay radio station, there was Paul Street Festival, Inalienable Rice, and I believe Angie, you mentioned, what is it?

 

Angie Wong:

Asianadian!

 

Kirsten Emiko McAllister:

Asianadian! And I just want to point out, here's some more recent work by Paul Wong, there was a panel discussion and artists got together and produced exhibitions and panel discussions and catalogs. This is an earlier Inalienable Rice production. And there's also other activists like Roy Miki who have thrown together the writings of early Japanese Canadian feminists, Muriel Kitagawa, from the 1940s. Monica Kin Gagnon’s book, key book and activism in the art sector in the 1990s into the 2000s. So what's really exciting now is there's a new generation of Japanese Canadian cultural activists. And there's a group called Eliminate Hate, who's working out of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, which is quite recent, it was established in 1996, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. So there's a new generation of activists coming from the arts community. And they've also focused a lot on the Downtown Eastside. And there's a lot of alliances they've built, excuse me, with Downtown East Side residents, Indigenous folks, and other racialized groups in that area. And we also have a very strong tradition of racialized communities from Filipinx domestic workers, to other migrant workers, organizing.

 

But what I want to point out - because I'm gonna bring this to a close - I want to raise some issues. I'm just thinking about this amazing cultural activism on the coast, and the way it's both pointed to the problematic discourses that have constructed Asian Canadians, and then the effort to create new critical languages and ways to think about our alliances and who we are and our responsibilities in this world. I feel like now it's almost as if there's disjunctions between the generations. And it's hard to say this after being on this panel with all of you amazing people who are talking about your intergenerational connections. But there seems to be a real disconnect, in some cases, between generations of activists. So, I've noticed some of the discourses around silencing that, you know, Asians as silent, and all of you have shown that we are not silent. But what that discourse can do, Asians are silenced, is it produces state discourses, and it also erases all the activism, like over a century, it erases the activism now, and it gives into the stereotype of the Asian as silent, passive and meek. 

 

So I think there's a lot to be learned by ongoing activism, like the members of this panel, but also historically, there's Asian Canadians in the 70s, who were really critical of the cherry blossoms, the Chinatowns, the kimonos, the exoticisation of Asians, and I feel like that discourse continues to be reproduced by my own community, and by some newer generations of artists. So I would really encourage, I guess, more dialogue and more responsibility, I guess, from my generation with younger artists who are also on the forefront of transnationalism and intersectionality. So I think there's just a lot of work to be done. And I don't know why there's that disjuncture, it might be in part - I know in the 2000s, with some of my students, I was noticing a siloing. The way multiculturalism has worked to silo different communities. When I was a young person, I was adopted by my friend Anna Ching, she's from Macau, and my friend Shfastaka who was from Tanzania, and they kind of took me under the wing as this kid from Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. I moved to Vancouver when I was 18. And they took me under the wing, I became part of a “we” that I didn't know existed, and it was so powerful. And so that intersectional alliance and understanding was really key. And then I've been adopted by older generations in the community at different times who have been incredibly patient with me and I've learned a lot. So I don't know what it is about the disjunctures and maybe I'm not seeing things clearly, but I think there is a siloing that needs to be changed. So - Monica, what's my time right now? 

 

Monika Kin Gagnon:

Over time, so if we could have our challenge that would be great. Thank you for checking in.

 

Kirsten Emiko McAllister:

The challenge is to be self-reflexive about how we can become complicit in state and larger capitalist discourses and colonialism, and to seek those alliances. And also to embrace joy. I think a lot of you pointed to the need to embrace joy. So yeah, thank you.

 

Monika Kin Gagnon: 

Thank you, Kirsten, thank you, all of you. We're a little bit over time right now. And we're on a tight schedule for our close captioners and our tech support as well. But I want to take just one minute to just express my incredible gratitude. Your contributions have gone beyond what I imagined the ensemble of us might be able to accomplish together. Thank you all so much. 

 

We did have Maribeth's recommendation, the challenges and takeaways, which I've written all down, I'm just going to go quickly through them in reverse, so that we can so people can carry them away with them for the rest of the weekend. Because I do think that all the things that you have brought up, which are related to the historical dimensions of the racism, the snapshots that we've gotten from each of your locations, the skepticism of policing, and the dangers that are involved for some of our communities, the issues of the medical system, mental health, and our youth have also been so crucial. The solidarity and support with essential workers and with sex workers as well. And just the incredible embodied example that you've all provided for your activism and solidarity has been extraordinary. Really.

 

Okay, so in reverse from Kirsten backwards, Kirsten asked to embrace joy and engage in self-reflection about how we're complicit with the apparatuses that sustain colonialism and capitalism. jaqs suggested that we lead with consent, that we proceed with care, calm and the resistance to urgency, and also to ask ourselves in being diligent, who is missing? Maribeth asked us to care for ourselves, to be physically, emotionally and spiritually well, and to be in breath. And you gave us that incredible dance performance that I think energized everybody who was watching. Jayal and Angie, Jayal, you asked us to tend to our relations. Angie, you asked us to engage in self-reflection, but also to create things. Mei, you asked us to contribute some kind of decolonial gesture and recognize where we're located. And Lu, you asked us to think about alternative platforms for supports, particularly for people who are living outside of the main centers and are in more rural and isolated areas. And could there be platforms for support that might be able to connect and network people in alternative ways than the established systems? So on that note, I'm going to just say, thank you all so much. I think this has set an incredible foundation for the rest of the weekend. And I would love to gather with all of you again, this has been amazing to be meeting with you for the last couple of weeks. And I thank you all for your incredible work and your contribution.

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