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April 13th - 10 min read

Talk Therapy Blog

My Racism Experience

In Canada, major cities have reported crime rates that are 600% to 700% higher from March 2020 to March 2021 than it was in the previous year. And many of these crimes were aimed at Asian-Canadians. The most significant increase in attacks in visible minorities was among Chinese, Korean, and other Southeast Asians.

These COVID hate crimes aren’t the start of racism and discrimination against Asians in North American, though.

It started in Canada as early as the 1850s when the Chinese moved to British Columbia (BC) to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. They were segregated and weren’t allowed to vote in the 1900s.

And in the early 2000s, when the SARS virus struck, there was undoubtedly xenophobia against Asians.

Here, I’ll talk about my first-hand experience on how racism impacts Asian communities and how I can help you overcome your own similar experiences.

A Little About Me

I’m Vera, and I’m a first-generation Chinese-Canadian. I live in Toronto, where I’ve had many of my own experiences witnessing racism against the Asian community.

I’m a registered member of the Ontario Association of Social Workers and Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. I chose to be in the social services field because I wanted to work with clients who had similar racist experiences. My goal is to help them process their identity so they can advocate for others and themselves.

Today, I have over 15 years of clinical experience in both mental health and community settings. I strive to be a good therapist who can help you through difficult times.

Now that you know a little more about me let’s dive into my life in Canada, both as a child and an adult.

My Experiences with Racism Growing up in Canada

Considering my parents were Chinese immigrants, they already had it tough. They uprooted themselves from Hong Kong and started all over again in Canada.
In this country, they had no ties to and didn’t speak the language. Not to mention, they also had to work hard to build their lives again from the ground up, all while trying to make ends meet for their family.

Being foreigners in a new country, my parents kept their heads down to blend in as best as possible. They didn’t speak English either, making it even more difficult for them to make themselves heard. Not that they’d dare to anyway; my parents didn’t want to stir up trouble in their new home country.

Because of this, they took racism quietly, all to avoid trouble. I remember as a kid, I witnessed folks on the bus telling my parents to move out of the way, and all they did was silently comply.

They told me never to speak up against such incidences. I avoided trouble and swallowed my pride to avoid conflict and be a victim of hate crimes. It was the only way my parents knew how to protect us, to maximize safety in a place far away from what they had called home all their lives.

Because my parents instilled in me the importance of staying quiet, I grew up not knowing how to speak up, especially for our people.

My Experiences with Racism as an Adult

My experiences with racism against the Asian-Canadian community didn’t just stop once I entered adulthood. In fact, while I was mainly a bystander and witness as a kid, I became the target of racism as an adult.

I’m not talking about blatant racist attacks, such as violence against me because of the colour of my hair or skin. Of course, ever since I was little, people made fun of my accent. Like many other first-generation Chinese-Canadians, I grew up bilingual, with Chinese as my first and primary language.

What I’m talking about are microaggressions. Even though I had all the right qualifications (and then some) as a social worker, clients didn’t want to work with me because I had an accent and didn’t speak proper English.

At work, a colleague tried to pass his client onto my caseload because the client was Chinese. He believed that I spoke the same language as the client, even though we spoke different dialects.

It’s little things like this that happen daily that have caused Asians to feel anxious, uncomfortable, and even unsafe when trying to fit in as a member of the local community. For far too long, we’ve believed that we need to put our heads down and push on without causing a scene.

Racism Today in the COVID-19 Era

While we could get by in the past with just microaggressions, the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated to President Trump, who has used the term “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” more than just a few times.

When faced with uncertainty and the unknown, people react with fear and anger. And often, they don’t know where to place those feelings. In terms of the pandemic, the easiest thing is to make Asians scapegoats for this illness.

Earlier, I mentioned that hate crimes in Canada have risen in the past year. The same goes for the US. While overall hate crimes fell in the country, hate crimes against Asian-Americans specifically rose by 150% in major US cities.

As you might’ve already guessed, the pandemic has given what may have been previously closeted racists to come out and openly attack Asians simply for being Asian.

The Impact of Racism on Asian Communities

Parents of first-generation Asians (like mine) might’ve thought it would be enough to keep your head down and be a contributing member of society. But the simple fact is, it’s just not enough.

Being complacent and not speaking up creates a further divide between Asian communities and surrounding ones. We start to feel unsafe and like we always need to have our guard up. We question every action that others perform, wondering if they’ll be another barrier to accomplishing our goals.

Going back to how Asians are portrayed as the “model minority,” many thinks that our positive stereotypes serve us well. But what they do is pressure us to meet those expectations and not speak up for ourselves.

These “positive” stereotypes also place all Asians into a box, portraying us as one homogenous race. But the reality is, we’re all unique and diverse individuals! We are not interchangeable races when looking at Chinese vs Vietnamese, Korean, etc.

Stop Asian Hate

Now, more than ever, we need to stop Asian hate. While we’d certainly benefit from others standing up from us, advocacy starts within the Asian community itself.

My parents taught me to be silent as a child. As an adult, I’ve learned to speak up and advocate for my family, other Asians, and myself, who experienced racism in society.

To do the same yourself, you need to address your traumas through some self-reflection. It can be challenging to face and relive specific experiences, but in the end, it can help you grow as a person and improve your self-esteem.

When we have good self-esteem, this means we can improve our self-love too. And as a result of that self-love, we can find the necessary strength to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Suppose more Asians could stand up against racism, discrimination, and the “positive” stereotyping. In that case, that’d be a solid start to creating a safer place for everyone.

Stand up Against Racism

While, unfortunately, racism will always be around, we can take steps to strengthen our Asian communities. By first focusing on our own traumas and boosting our self-esteem, we can then give back to our communities by being their voices.

So if you’ve been afraid to speak up because of your past, let me help you with any overwhelming feelings. I’ll help you process your identity, as well as emotions and thoughts regarding racism, discrimination, or any other thoughts that trouble you.

Due to my previous experiences with racism, I’ve decided to contribute to the community by collaborating with BIPOC artist Nadia Lloyd to make a “Stop Asian Hate” mask. I will be donating 10% of all proceeds to Butterfly, Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network.

If you want to help, please support me in purchasing the mask by learning more.

If you have a traumatic experience and anxiety, you’d like help with, try Talk Therapy with Vera today. I offer a free 15-minute phone or video consultation, so schedule one now. I serve individuals who live in Ontario, Canada, but prioritize video and phone counselling over traditional in-person services due to the pandemic.

I have included resources that might be helpful for you.

https://www.ihollaback.org/ – An international organization to train people to respond to, intervene in, and heal from harassments. Free training on bystander Interventions and bystander guide.

https://www.covidracism.ca/ – Fight COVID racism has a form to report racism on the website.

https://projectprotech.ca/ – PROTECH: Pandemic Rapid-response Optimization To Enhance Community-Resilience and Health is a community-engaged action research project that aims to reduce the negative psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Chinese Canadians and other affected groups while promoting community resilience.

https://csalc.ca/ – Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic is a community based legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario which provides free legal services to low income, non-English speaking clients from the Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian communities in Ontario.

Google Doc – Alternatives to Calling the Police . Anti-Racist Education for Asian Diaspora in Canada during COVID-19.

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