understanding Anti-Asian racism, identity, and belonging

From the Pacific Coast race riots of 1907 to the upsurge of anti-Asian Racism during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Chinese and Asian Canadians have wrestled with questions of belonging, cultural difference, identity, and otherness. Our experiences and narratives are often invisible, minimalized, and misrepresented throughout this nation, even after a century since the repeal of the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. These same racist systems and prejudices still operate in Canadian society today.

Anti-Asian racism takes place within a larger context of systemic oppression situated in anti-Black racism and Indigenous erasure that is deeply rooted in the foundations of Canada as a settler-colonial state driven by capitalism, and cannot be separated from Western imperialism and colonization globally. It persists throughout history and continues to affect Chinese and Asian Canadians, extending its impact on racialized newcomers, refugees, and (im)migrants.

It is a marriage of racist policies and ideas tied to systems of discrimination and oppression that produces and normalizes racial inequities and exists in several intersecting forms, such as negative and stereotypic attitudes about ‘racialized’ groups, the dominance of White Supremacy and Western knowledge and systems, overt aggression and violence, and more subtle discriminatory behaviors, as well as structural inequities and social exclusion.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a rise in anti-Asian racist incidents occurred in public spaces, businesses, and private residences, with a notable increase online. Charged by disinformation and inflammatory rhetoric tying East Asian communities to the origins and spread of the COVID-19 virus, echoed familiar anti-Asian tropes and narratives of segregation such as Yellow Peril, Orientalism, and perpetual foreigner that positions racialized communities as existing outside of the nation, regardless of legal, generational, or cultural status. Fears of the coronavirus enabled and heightened the presence of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiments online combining traditional slurs and new terms such as “KUNGFLU”. Data from public safety reports showed a massive increase in web traffic to previously lesser-known fringe websites actively promoting racist ideologies and hate speech, adding to the challenges of addressing the nuances of systemic racism. 

In committing ourselves to anti-racism and decolonization work, we must recognize that our lives are interconnected to our ancestors and the many organizers and activists who came before us. As we engage in our long-term goal to seek a different future that holds space for us all, our projects aim to capture community resistance, political and cultural activism, intergenerational organizing, community and solidarity building, identity-making, racial equity, and social justice to inform anti-racist practices, policies, and legislation.


A history of resistance

Road to Justice is a resource that examines the history of Chinese racial justice movements in conversation with the histories of Indigenous, Black, and other non-white settler communities and investigates Canada’s colonial structure and systems of oppression through Chinese resistance against state-sanctioned means of exclusion such as the Opium Act of 1919, Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, and Head Tax, eugenic policies, and the 19060s Save Chinatown Committee to the ongoing movement to save Chinatowns across Canada in response to rapid gentrification.

Identifying Anti-Asian Racism Online

Stop Online Hate

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms claims that Canadians “…are guaranteed freedom of thought, belief, and expression” and some freedom of speech advocates believe in an open marketplace of ideas, where no expression is restricted, and that the best response to harmful speech is through productive debates that let different ideas freely challenge each other. Other groups serving victims of hate crimes and racialized communities contend that such restrictions on online hate speech are vital to the protection of minority communities from harms and violence that manifests in real-time.  In our efforts to address anti-Asian racism and hate online, our project aims to examine the effects of anti-Asian racism and hate online and how certain laws that censor or limit certain types of expression, particularly speech that incites violence and hatred both online and in public, would impact our communities.

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Melanie Ng (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation research studies clandestine Chinese migration to and through Canada during the twentieth-century. More specifically, she explores how Chinese migrants’ methods of “passing” simultaneously subverted state legal categories in circumventing anti-Chinese immigration state laws, while also, had the unintended result of reinforcing those same systems. As a former Museum Educator at the Royal Ontario Museum, Melanie comes from a strong public history background. She currently works as the Project Manager for expanding CCNC-SJ’s Road to Justice website. Beyond academia, her work focuses on amplifying grassroots organizing efforts through education and historically contextualizing issues faced by Chinese Canadian and other racialized communities.

Emily Chan (she/her) is a second-generation Canadian settler based in Toronto and Vancouver. She is a researcher, designer, community organizer, and a board member of the Toronto Chinatown Land Trust. She works in the areas of user experience and human computer interaction; solidarity economy; and equity and justice. She holds a Bachelor of Design (OCADU) and Master of Library and Information Studies (UBC). Emily strives to centre and contribute to community driven, just, and equitable initiatives.

Koby Song-Nichols (he/him) is a PhD candidate in history with a collaborative specialization in food studies at the University of Toronto. His research follows how Chinese Canadians and Chinese Americans have used Chinese food and foodways to feed intercultural, intergenerational and diasporic relations and communities in the multicultural cities of Toronto, Montreal and Phoenix. By placing these histories within the same frame and centring Chinese Canadian and Chinese American voices, his work aims to help us recognize and reimagine the many ways we do and can relate to one another, our foods and our pasts. His work has been published in Food, Culture, & Society, Gastronomica, and Chinese America: History & Perspectives. He has presented his research internationally including at the Oxford Food Symposium, Mills College, and the Università di Scienze Gastronomiche di Pollenzo.

Serene Tan is a settler of Chinese heritage (Hokkien/Hakka) who grew up in Singapore and Hong Kong. She is a sessional lecturer in the Canadian Studies Program at University College, University of Toronto, as well as a project coordinator at the Tkaronto CIRCLE Lab (Social Justice Education, OISE) for the Returned Lands Projects. Serene holds a PhD in Geography (YorkU). Her doctoral dissertation examined Chinatowns in Southeast Asia as a diasporic, ethno-national landscape. She has published research on labour movements, community-led demonstrations, public policy in relation to diasporas, and cultural heritage. Serene is curious about social and cultural identities and relationships, diasporas, social justice and community organizing, returning land, and decolonization.

Nicole Yakashiro (she/her) is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia. Her dissertation research examines the politics of what she calls “neighbourly relations” in settler colonial British Columbia and in particular, the meanings of Asian-Canadian property possession – or lack thereof – on unceded, occupied Indigenous lands throughout the province. Her publications include “‘Powell Street is dead’: Nikkei Loss, Commemoration, and Representations of Place in the Settler Colonial City” in Urban History Review (2021) and “Daffodils and Dispossession: Nikkei Settlers, White Possession, and Settler Colonial Property in Bradner, BC, 1914-1951” in BC Studies for which she won the 2021 BC Studies Prize. Nicole is an active member of the Japanese Canadian community, primarily as part of the Powell Street Festival Society’s Advocacy and Outreach Committee in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She is especially passionate about bridging community work with academic research through innovative pedagogical approaches and mobilizing histories in the present to support grassroots activism.

Supported by the Royal Bank of Canada.

Research team

Tiffany Tsai (she/they/她) is a second-generation Han-Taiwanese settler on traditional and stolen West Coast Salish people lands who began their anti-racist and anti-oppression work through their journey of healing and liberation from complex traumas rooted in systemic oppressions. They have a background in International Education specializing in supporting international youths with their health and wellbeing, through an intersectional and holistic lens, to ensure a safe and successful studying abroad experience. Their undergraduate degree in Criminology and Gender Studies facilitated their most recent involvement with India’s Farmers’ Protest where they participated and facilitated the organizing of local protest movements, through an anti-racist and anti-oppressive lasik, to raise awareness and funds to help the labor movement in India. Currently, they work as the Operations Manager with Racing to Equity Consulting Group to advance racial equity, social justice, and individual and collective healing and liberation.

Supported by the United Way of Greater Toronto.

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