May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. In the United States, the name is slightly different—Asian-Pacific Islander Heritage Month—but the purpose of the day is the same.
This is a time to recognize the diverse cultures and histories of people of Asian descent in Canada and the United States. It is also a time to focus on their many contributions to these societies—as well as the struggles that they have faced in trying to earn acceptance and equity here.
In 2021, the theme of Asian Heritage Month is 'Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve'. This is about building understanding and learning across Canada to promote, celebrate, and protect communities of Asian descent.
What does the term 'Asian' mean?
Any time a single term is used to describe a large and diverse group of people, it is going to be a compromise. After all, over 37 million people can be called 'Canadian', but that certainly doesn't mean that these people are all alike! And that truth certainly applies to people of Asian descent.
Asia is a continent that is home to 60 percent of the world's population (4.5 billion) and over 50 countries. So when we say 'people of Asian descent', we are speaking about a vast array of unique backgrounds, languages, cultures, and traditions. People from Laos, Vietnam, Pakistan, South Korea, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, China, Mongolia, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Myanmar, and many more.
People have been immigrating to Canada from these parts of the world for over 150 years. So while some Asians in Canada have been here for generations, others have immigrated here very recently. Their experiences are different.
Part of the purpose of Asian Heritage Month is highlighting these different backgrounds and experiences. The term 'Asian' doesn't refer to any one place of origin, religious view, or traditional or contemporary culture. It is a broad mosaic of people and experiences.
So why use a single term at all if there are so many different people to represent? That's a good question. A big part of the reason for an Asian Heritage Month is that for all of the different experiences, there are still some similarities.
Despite being a huge part of Canada and its history, people of Asian descent have experienced a lack of representation in Canadian culture and politics. Whether your background is Malaysian, Afghan, or Thai, you're not likely to find many athletes, actors, politicians, or business leaders who reflect your own experiences. You've also been less likely to see your own diversity, culture, and traditions represented accurately or positively in the media—whether in news or entertainment.
Let's start here
One way to address the issue is by simply educating and elevating each other—not just in May, but all year round. Challenging assumptions and prejudice. Celebrating achievements. Learning about the histories that brought us all together in the same place. There's something for all Canadians to learn, no matter your background. Thousands of stories. All compelling and unique. All important.
To celebrate Asian Heritage Month and help fight anti-Asian racism, we'll be running more stories across May that amplify and educate. To sign off for now, here is a video message from Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, on what the theme 'Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve' means in Canada.
Happy Asian Heritage Month!