Life is weird for everyone these days — but the weird in my life isn’t about the pandemic. Like most, I’m having a lot of feelings about the state of things and the headlines buzzing around — and I haven’t wanted to talk about it. I want to write about it instead.
Social media has been encouraging people to reach out to their Asian friends and family and I’m left awkwardly responding, unsure of what to say. The gesture is kind but I’m not always ready to talk about my anger, hurt and resentment — and I don’t want to have to explain and offer more context of why I’m so deeply sad. I don’t want to feel responsible for positive Asian representation in these moments.
Being queer as well as Chinese
I am a queer Chinese woman living in a time when people insist on hating Asians and the Vatican’s off calling same-sex marriage a sin. Major Canadian cities have seen hate crime rates against Asians that are six and seven hundred per cent higher than the previous year — they’re up since the pandemic. It’s been haunting the back of my mind since the Statistic Canada’s report came out in July 2020 that pointed out the increase in harassment and attacks against Asians. In fact, there are more anti-Asian incidents reported per capita in Canada than U.S., according to the Chinese Canadian National Council. that hostility towards East Asians especially continues to grow — and so it turns out much of that hate is directed towards the Chinese.
Having worked to heal myself from internalized racism from growing up in Toronto (you think being called a ‘banana’ in public school is a compliment until you realize it’s a micro aggression!), I’m at a point in my evolution where I embrace my identity and accept it — even when the world constantly tells me I’m less-than. Being third-generation Chinese-Canadian means I have deep roots in western culture — and to socially survive and thrive in my career, I assimilated. My family encouraged me to do it; having also grown up in Toronto, they built healthy social lives by ensuring we had no accents and developing strong popular culture knowledge to relate to other Canadians. Play the right songs, know the right references, laugh at the right jokes.
After generations of working to fit into a culture, it feels like a slap in the face when you realize that the city you love and call home has research showing Toronto as the second highest number of cases in Canada involving anti-Asian hate crimes. Of course, our country’s history with anti-Asian racism is horrible, so it also shouldn’t be such a surprise.
Canada’s anti-Chinese legacy
In case you ignored colonial history class in high school, they actually did mention the work Chinese folx did on that railroad. They tend to gloss over the fact hundreds died building the Transcontinental Railroad but it’s somewhat known that it was the product of some 20,000 Chinese labourers. It’s more the Chinese Exclusion Act that gets me every time. The fact that Canada was on board with an immigration policy designed to support hate against the alienated Chinese for 24 years. As you can imagine, Asians weren’t desirable citizens during the “White Canada Forever” campaigns (yes, this was a real thing). But the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 is still probably the worst and most racist of all. I would know, I am born from two head-tax paying families.
Never forget that July 1, 1923 was the day they passed the Chinese Immigration Act. It’s hard to believe that Canada Day was known as “Humiliation Day” for Chinese Canadians for so many years, eh?
As feminism started to gain traction, Canada was the only country in the world to have a weird racist law where white women couldn’t work for Chinese men. It was considered a criminal offence for a Chinese man to employ a white woman (read: this is why intersectional feminism matters) — and don’t think there wasn’t a trial in which a Chinese man was actually charged with this ridiculous offence.
From the Chinese Exclusion Act keeping Asian immigrant people out being considered a success to the sturdy bamboo ceiling in the workforce and beyond the rise of Asian hate crimes, you can see why being visually Chinese is a complicated thing throughout history and even now in Canada. I just hate how much it’s always mattered — my racial identity to people. Will I ever be able to be just a Pisces and not the Asian girl?
Why none of the headlines are shocking to me
But let’s get back to this moment. While the Canadian government isn’t currently trying to pass laws to keep the Chinese out, we’ve never really healed from such a racist history. This is why it’s of no surprise to me when I see people’s behaviours and actions motivated by hate against my community.
This is why I don’t know what to say when people check in on me. It feels inappropriate to launch into an anti-Chinese timeline throughout Canadian history, it feels weird to say I’m fine and it’s just generally uncomfortable to have to think about how I feel about it all. Sometimes when I think about personal racism, I have this mental VHS tape that will play me a reel of my horrible highlights: being spoken to slowly while in Northern Ontario, having a customer ask for a different server because he didn’t want to be served by a Chinese, watching people pull their eyes at me, white men asking for a happy ending by a bar — and knowing I was lucky only these things happened to me rather than be shot dead. None of these things should be happening — but they are. How should I feel about that?
These facts and feelings are hard to ignore and a lot to process. The Vatican thing is also annoying and my Chinese mother already hates that I’m a lesbian. See how intersections work? She’s marginalized in one way but can oppress in another. So much to say, being a Gaysian in 2021 is a weird experience and if I think about it too much, I have a lot of reasons to be angry with few solutions handy. Instead, I’ll try to wear an optimistic face about it all and try to encourage action against Asian hate for all of us.