Until last week’s mass shooting in Atlanta, where six of the eight victims were Asian women, I rarely worried about my mother’s safety.
She is a small Vietnamese woman, 85 pounds, now retired and living in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood. She enjoys daytime and night-time walks. She loves the area and doesn’t ever plan to leave. People are friendly, everything is nearby, and she enjoys the beautiful trails of Black Creek.
But hate, racism and ignorance can strike at any moment. And during the pandemic there has been an exponential rise in anti-Asian-motivated attacks and crime in Canada.
Recently, my mom and I noticed a lady glaring at us while we were standing behind her in line at Costco. She yelled at us when we inched our way to the check-out.
I have thick skin, but I was angry that my mom was treated rudely. My mom survived the perilous boat journey during her escape from Vietnam, so the stares are small potatoes to her.
I don’t fear for my security as much, but I have also experienced anti-Asian racism. The words “chink”, “gook” and “nip” have all be directed at me. When I was 10, I was nearly hit by a truck. The driver yelled at me to “Get the fuck out of the way you dumb chink!”
I have also experienced micro-aggressions, in both public and professional settings, including once by a senior government staff member making slant-eyed gestures. We still have a long way to go when it comes to conscious or unconscious racism in Canada.
A friend who’s originally from South Korea told me recently that her encounters with racism have exploded since COVID-19.
She says customers where she works downtown have refused to be served by her or her Filipino co-worker. As the manager, she asked one customer to leave because they don’t tolerate that kind of behaviour and her staff must be respected. She spoke up, but she was shaking inside.
She’s encountered similar hostility on the street, including from two young women while boarding the train at Pape Station recently. They shouted at her and her co-worker friend. “You’re a fuckin’ coronavirus! Go back to China!” My friend says she and her co-worker waited to board the next train.
She says the experiences have made her feel more aware of the colour of her skin.
“Before I came to Canada, I never thought about racism. I never saw myself as a person of colour.”
I have been involved in the fight against racism for many years because of the stigma I faced and witnessed happen to the kids in my community. But now it seems like hate is spreading more than ever.
Paul Nguyen is a community activist and founder of Jane-Finch.com.