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Asian Heritage Month

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As a nation, it is important to reflect on our past, and on those who paved the way, in order that we can continue to make gains in the future.”

– Vivienne Poy

Since 1788, Asian immigrants have journeyed to Canada from Eastern, Southern, Western, and Southeast Asia, introducing a rich cultural heritage to our society, while representing many languages, ethnicities and religious traditions. Asian Heritage Month is an excellent opportunity to learn more about these traditions, as well as the unique contributions made by Asian Canadians who have done so much to make Canada the amazing country we share today. The 2020 theme for Asian Heritage Month was “Asian Canadians: United in Diversity.” This was heavily inspired by the long and rich history of these Canadians who continue to enrich our country and make it a more vibrant, inclusive and compassionate society. Each of these cultures are unique and have their own history as well as their own place within Canada. Asian Heritage Month is a chance to build on your own understanding of these cultures, while cultivating diversity and inclusion.

Asian Heritage Month is celebrated during the month of May each year. Although Canadian have been celebrating Asian Heritage Month since 1990, it was not officially adopted in the senate until a motion was proposed by Vivienne Poy in May of 2001. Asian Heritage Month was officially declared by the Government of Canada in May 2002, following Poy’s previous proposal. Edmonton started celebrating Asian Heritage Month in 1998, the first ever in Canada. The Asian Heritage Foundation has been celebrating Asian Heritage in Calgary on and off since 2012. 

The United States has been known to celebrate Asian Pacific American History Month in May to commemorate the first Asian immigrant arriving on May 7th 1843.

We celebrate Asian Heritage Month to pay tribute to the amazing contributions made by Asian Canadians throughout our country’s history. It is important to honour our country’s diversity by learning about what makes Asian cultures unique. In order for us to continue to evolve as a nation, we all have a responsibility to reflect upon our country’s treatment of Asian immigrants over the years in an effort to learn from our mistakes and work towards building stronger relationships. This includes learning about several historical events, such as Japanese Internment Camps, The Hayashi-Lemieux Gentlemen’s Agreement, the Banning of South Asian Immigration, anti-Asian riots that date back to 1907, the immigration points system, and so much more. 

Asian Heritage Month is a reminder of how vigilant we still need to be when it comes to anti-racism. Unfortunately racism has existed within our country for centuries, and continues to, and Asian Canadians have not escaped this legacy. From early systemic racism found in the unfairly introduced Head Tax placed on several Asian immigrants who at one point were charged an unmanageable fee just to set foot in Canada, to the rise in overt racism caused by widespread ignorance that followed the spread of Covid-19. Just like early Asian immigrants were charged more than their European counterparts to enter our country, Asian Canadians have been subject to increased harassment and discrimination by non-Asian communities, while arbitrarily being blamed for the current Global pandemic. 

Asian Heritage Month is also a time of celebration, as it invites us to honour the many traditions of our Asian Canadians. Their journey as a resilient people and their accomplishments in business, politics, and the arts should be shared. By attempting to understand their language, artistry, and different food, we allow ourselves the opportunity to foster inclusion and acceptance. By fostering this acceptance, we can build empathy and truly understand what it means to become a global citizen. We celebrate Asian Heritage Month by combating racism, overcoming hatred, and empowering Asian Canadian voices to be their full potential. We have certainly come a long way, but there is still so much more we can do to unlearn implicit biases and embrace diversity.

Everyone can participate in Asian Heritage Month because learning and celebrating Asian History in Canada is important regardless of where you come from. Asian Canadians are responsible for a great deal of what makes our country what it is today. This includes the building of our railroad, early trading posts, and innovations in a variety of areas (i.e. arts, medicine, business, sports, government, etc). We all have a role to play in celebrating these incredible innovations.

You can celebrate Asian Heritage Month everywhere! Because gaining and sharing knowledge is so much more fun with others, you can celebrate at home, in your community, online, and of course, in your school!

You can celebrate Asian Heritage Month in so many wonderful ways. You can start by learning about a local Asian community in your area or learning about the complex history of Asian immigration in Canada by referring to our attached list of resources outlining historical information in relation to Asian heritage. You can take your learning one step further by attending Asian Heritage festivals and creating space for Asian Canadians to tell their story. The most important thing you can do is create a dialogue surrounding the importance of Asian Heritage, sharing everything you learn with your family and friends. You can also celebrate by participating in any of our theatrical activities that will help to activate your learning and finding creative ways to share what you and your students learn.

One size does not fit all

How you and your school decide to use the suggested activities, performances, and resources will depend completely on what you and your peers are comfortable with, and the time you have available to designate to the project(s). Trickster is also available to consult with if you would like extra help, resource connections, and/or coordination. You can go big, involving every class with different projects, performances and events throughout the school, or, you can go as small as just doing an activity listed in the materials for your own class which you believe will help them connect to the subject matter. 

Due to the circumstances of COVID19, not everything suggested will be possible, and many will need to be adjusted to suit your needs and comfort level. As we hope to carry this forward, and know that schools are looking to future projects much further down the road, we do want to plant the seeds for what those event days might look like too. There will be suggestions throughout on how you can modify activities for social distancing, but you are also able at any point to choose and modify activities and projects to achieve the level of safety your school is comfortable with.

Why Teachers Love It

Our residency was a unifying and motivating experience that we used as a way to begin our year long inquiry about children’s rights.

— Lisa McConnell, Teacher, North Haven School, Calgary

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