Focus Group: One More Insecurity

Photo by Nik MacMillan.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a Focus Group session where I asked a few people to share about an insecurity that they used to experience that has improved over time. A little bit delayed, I got this response from another participant, Kathy. I thought it deserved to stand all on its own, in her own words:

"I used to be insecure about the fact that I'm Asian. Growing up in a predominantly white community in California before the influx of a lot of Asians/Asian Americans into the South Bay Area, I did not have much of an understanding of what it meant that I was Asian American--that I was different, even though I was born and raised in the same place my white peers were. None of us did--and so these differences led to subtle and overt acts of racism against the non-white kids. The more "white" you acted and the more you hid your cultural Asianness, the more likely you were to be accepted by the dominant peer groups.

Making Asian American friends--in high school and especially going to UC Berkeley where there were not only many Asians but a diversity of expressions of what it meant to be Asian American--helped me to begin embracing my Asianness in a way I don't even think I very consciously recognized. I at least took it for granted. I began to not only shed my insecurities around being Asian American, but began to actually embrace and appreciate the cultural strengths of the Asian American experience.

Interestingly, over the last decade of living in Vancouver, my insecurities have returned to some extent. In the last few years, I have been able to recognize and name the racism that exists in Vancouver towards Asians. When my worshipping community moved to the Japanese Language School, I started to discover the multifaceted history of racism against various Asian Canadian groups that is very particular to Vancouver in that it dates back to the inception of the city as a colonial hub.

Since immigrants still represent a significant percentage of Asians in Vancouver and in that they are largely from concentrated regions, namely mainland China and Hong Kong, a particular flavour of racism has continued to evolve in Vancouver. The history of this racism is of organized groups like the Vancouver Asiatic Exclusion League who perpetrated overt acts of violence on mainly the Chinese in the 1880's and then again in the early 1900's. It is of legislated racism first taxing Chinese immigrants to Canada and then barring them from immigrating for over 40 years. It is of stripping Japanese communities of their homes and businesses in the 1940's and selling the properties to fund interning Japanese Canadians in prison camps.

Apparently racism against Asians in Vancouver is not simply a recent phenomenon in response to a misplaced scapegoating of the Chinese for causing housing unaffordability.

My own insecurities around being Asian in this city only make me wonder how intensely Indigenous folks must feel here and all over the world. But it nonetheless is also in particular about my being Asian itself. I am trying to combat my own insecurities around these realities, but it is more difficult this time given there is not Asian representation in this city that I personally relate to. I'm sure more could be said, but I'll leave it there."

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