Some Canadians Feel Asian Heritage Video is Watered Down

Thursday, May 31, 2012

  • The Canadian Pacific Railway 1907

    The Canadian Pacific Railway 1907

Written by Chris Carr


By Chris Carr


May was Asian Heritage Month. A month to remember those of Asian ancestry who helped shape Canada into the country it is today. The Canadian government released a PSA video that can be seen here, to gain awareness of the campaign. However, some Canadians feel the message was too sanitized and didn't touch on the important issues to Asian-Canadians and their relatives who pioneered Canada.

 “They want to celebrate the contributions of Asians to Canada. That's great. But let's look at the contributions they've chosen to highlight, one of which is building the railroad.” says Trevor Chow-Fraser, a former student of the University of Guelph. “Well, as many Canadians know, the Chinese who worked on the railroad were paid less, lived in worse conditions, and faced greater dangers than their white collar-workers...Chinese were restricted from working in most industries, the legacy of which is a history of domestic labour -- cooking and cleaning, Chinese restaurants and Chinese laundries. Finally, Chinese immigration was banned outright for almost three decades.”

 Chow-Fraser touches on the Chinese Immigration Act implemented by the Canadian Government in 1923 that prohibited any Chinese immigration into Canada until it was repealed in 1947. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House of Commons in Cantonese, a common Chinese dialect, for the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants.

 This conservative government gave a formal apology a few years back, but that doesn't mean this history of oppression can be glossed over, erased and forgotten. On the contrary, the Asian heritage in Canada is one of overcoming decades of racist policies and attitudes, and that's something that should in fact be celebrated,” says Chow-Fraser.

 Mandip Kaur Sandher, Cheif Expansion Officer at United Starminds International, shares the notion that the PSA could have had a little more to say. “I think a powerful phrase like 'Asian Pioneers contributions to laying the foundations of Canada' would have been great in the PSA...I know next time I take a train it will give me an opportunity to 'think deeper' on the topic and perhaps a silent 'thank you' to our collective Asian ancestors.”

 The Canadian Pacific Railway, made of two, 100 foot sections (one headed east, one headed west) was further sectioned into 28 of these subsidiary sections. There was an enormous amount of man-power that went into the undertaking with only two per cent of the workers being from European ancestry, the rest were predominantly of Asian ancestry.


Sandhar feels that when Canadians take time to admire these feats, then Asian Heritage Month can become the avenue it seeks to be. “After reading the responses to the PSA there still is a strong notion of discrimination in society and I think once the 'stories' are allowed to flow in their true colours people can learn from the past and understand that we must all now move forward in celebrating our 'connected humanity.'”


Regardless of the aim of the PSA, some Canadians feel it missed the mark. With such a rich heritage as the Asian-Canadian community has, there are many other ways the Canadian government could have paid homage. Some Canadians feel their Asian-Canadian citizens deserve at least that.




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  1. Posted by: Heena Mistry on Jun 27, 2012 @ 9:35pm

    Man, I wish there was more publicity for Asian Heritage Month! I didn't even know we had one! I think the point that the video was trying to get at in the beginning was that their contribution started with the railway, and then later on other things (like the World Wars). I agree that the more contemporary contributions of Asians in Canada is not really explored enough. I think maybe having a longer video would have helped with that though.
    Wow, I am so happy there is an Asian Heritage month though!!

  2. Posted by: mango_peaches on Jul 4, 2012 @ 7:45pm

    The reason that this heritage month is still being under-celebrated has to do with the fact that most of the Asian countries have low economic status. Racialized Asian professions persist in our society, i.e. nannies and geeky subjects such as mathematics, computer science, engineering. Unlike slavery, which have been eradicated on this continent.

    My two cents.

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