The National Executive Board of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) has heard from our members and member organizations across Canada who are shaken by the ongoing incidents of anti-Asian hate. We expressed our solidarity with Asian Americans who were reeling with the news of the six Asian American women who were killed in Atlanta. Whether in the news, social media, or by personal account, the incidents are increasing on both sides of the border.
We asked our JC members to report any incidents. One of our Japanese Canadian elders, a sansei (third generation Canadian of Japanese ancestry) told us she was walking outside when she was verbally attacked and told that she is the cause of the virus and “to go back where she came from.” The elder said it brought back horrible memories of the internment. Other JCs have also reported similar attacks.
There is an upsurge in the attacks against Asian Americans and Asian Canadians which started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asian Canadians, Asian Americans, and anyone who looks Asian are being attacked and unfairly blamed for the pandemic.
The Vancouver Police Department reported an over 700% increase in the number of anti-Asian hate incidents in 2020. There needs to be more race-based data collection to support changes in policy and legislation. Filling the gap for now, community groups have started documenting the incidents. What we do know is that there are more cases of anti-Asian hate than what is reported to the police. We also see that women are disproportionately the target of the hate.
We need to emphasize Anti-Asian racism is not new. Historical accounts often lack the stories of racialized settlers and Indigenous peoples. If more people understood the injustice of the past, maybe we wouldn’t keep repeating the mistakes. Anti-Asian racism started when Asian settlers first came to Canada.
Our Japanese Canadian ancestors experienced anti-Asian racism when they arrived as settlers in the 1800s. They and Chinese Canadians experienced it in the anti-Asian riot that took place in 1907 in downtown Vancouver, a planned event organized by both Americans and Canadians. Anti-Asian racism persisted and manifested in the injustice against Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. In 1942 nearly 22,000 Canadians of Japanese ethnicity were forcibly uprooted, dispossessed, interned until four years after the war ended, and exiled.
Other Asian Canadians have their own stories to tell. There is diversity within Asian communities. Our communities comprise newcomers and multigenerational families. We’re not all the same, but unfortunately, we do have the experience of anti-Asian racism in common.
More work needs to be done to stop the stereotypes, the marginalization of racialized people, and the “othering” of people through comments, questions, jokes, and racial slurs. These attacks take place in person and are increasing online. We need to set up processes and policies to prevent toxic environments where bullies thrive.
The NAJC is committed to our human rights work including education and creating safe spaces where we can share our stories and build inclusivity. We are working with our community, other community groups, other organizations, and all levels of government.
This will take the effort of all of us, individually and collectively, to stop the anti-Asian hate and all forms of racism. Doing nothing is not an option.