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Celebrate Asian Heritage Month with CBC Vancouver

Highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian-Canadians in the community.

Highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian-Canadians in the community

May is Asian Heritage Month, a time to acknowledge and celebrate the rich history of Asian-Canadians and their contributions to our country. 

To commemorate the occasion, CBC Vancouver is sharing profiles of amazing Asian-Canadians every week throughout the month of May to highlight those who are making meaningful contributions in the community. 

Check out the inspiring profiles below!

For more Asian Heritage Month content, listen to our special series on The Early Edition, visit CBC Gem for a collection of series, documentaries and films that honour the culturally diverse and rich heritage of Asian-Canadians and follow the hashtag #ProudlyAsianCanadian on social media. 

Wesley Jang, Burnaby

ICU physician and emergency doctor Wesley Jang is pictured outside Burnaby Hospital on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

My name is Wesley Jang and I was born in Burnaby, B.C. 

The past year has been an emotional roller-coaster. As a physician in the emergency department and in the intensive care unit (ICU), I recall how sick to my stomach I felt when I had to intubate a colleague of mine who contracted the virus at work. As the nurses set up facetime for my patient and their family prior to inserting a breathing tube, I remember thinking, "is this the last time they will talk?" I also remember the support I felt from the community every time I heard the 7 p.m. cheer from my balcony, and the tear of joy I shed when I got vaccinated – vaccines give me hope. 

It has been challenging working as an ICU physician during this pandemic for many reasons: ICU bed capacity, resources, fatigue, stress and the daily exposure to COVID. But telling family and friends that their loved one has lost their battle to COVID-19 is heartbreaking – it is the hardest part of my job. Thankfully, we have a great team of support staff and resources at work to keep us mentally well and healthy. 

It's easy to become focused on the "daily count" of new cases and we forget that these "numbers" are actual humans. COVID affects everyone – all races, gender, ages and social-economic class. It does not discriminate. We have to remember that every COVID patient fighting for their life is someone's loved one. 

As an Asian-Canadian, I am proud of our family values and sense of community. This is evident when you walk throughout Chinatown and see the care and compassion we have for our elderly Asian population. We may come from different backgrounds and cultures, but Asian-Canadians share the same hopes and dreams that any Canadian born individual has. It's important that we embrace the diversity of this country.

 


Carol Lee, Vancouver

Carol Lee, chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and owner of Chinatown BBQ, is pictured in Vancouver on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

I was born in Vancouver, B.C., and I am the chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation. 

In the past year, I have become much more aware of microaggressions and subtle signs of racial discrimination. The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border sends the clear message that Asians have not been fully accepted in North America. This has led me to reflect on my own experience as part of the "model minority" and recognize that anti-Asian racism has always been here. 

As a result of the pandemic, we saw our neighbourhood, Chinatown, shunned and defaced with anti-Asian graffiti. Today, many of Chinatown's storefronts now stand empty. But lately, because of media attention about how challenging the situation has been in the community, people have been reminded of the neighbourhood's rich history and its importance to the city and are now supporting it more than ever before. 

There are many things that inspire hope. Witnessing people of all backgrounds coming together to support the Asian community and seeing the next generation of Asian-Canadians reconnecting with their heritage and tackling issues head on gives me hope that there are better days ahead. 

What makes me proud to be Asian-Canadian is our strong work ethic, our determination and perseverance in the face of adversity and our love of Canada. Chinese-Canadians have made a tremendous contribution to our city and nation and I'm grateful for the generations that came before us, who helped build this country and who sacrificed so much in order for us to have a better life.

 


Anson Leung, Richmond

Anson Leung is pictured inside his family’s restaurant, HK BBQ Master, in Richmond on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

My name is Anson Leung and I was born and raised in Canada.

My family and I own and run a Chinese barbecue restaurant business, HK B.B.Q. Master, in Richmond. While we experienced race-based harassment when we opened 21 years ago, as the years wore on, the number of occasions of race-based harassment has drastically declined – but it's not gone. 

Recently we had a non-Asian customer come in without wearing a mask and not wanting to wait in line to purchase food. The customer, who had travelled to Richmond just to visit our restaurant, refused to cooperate and became frustrated that he was being asked to wear a mask and to wait his turn in the line. In his agitated state, the customer spewed racial slurs and told us to "go back where you came from."

Despite incidents like this, I have always found myself extremely fortunate to be born and raised in Vancouver because the multicultural environment is ideal to explore my Chinese-Canadian identity. While I don't deny the fact that anti-Asian hate is on the rise, I also see a much more diverse crowd coming into our restaurant wanting to learn about the culture of traditional Hong Kong barbecue. And this is what makes me proud to be Asian-Canadian: being able to contribute to Asian cuisines through my restaurant and to spread love for traditional cooking methods in Hong Kong style barbecue. 

Although this past year has been challenging – especially when we had to close our business for several weeks – it was also a year that brought the community together and I am deeply appreciative for its love and support for my family's restaurant.

 


Joey Pacis, Coquitlam

Joey Pacis is pictured in Coquitlam on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

I was born in Manila, Philippines, and immigrated to Canada in 1995. 

Moving to Canada and leaving the life I had in the Philippines was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. But the gentility of life here and the kindness of the Canadians provided comfort and ease.

The past years events have made me realize that after 25 years here, I'm still Asian-Canadian and that Canadians could be seeing me as "different." While I have not been the victim of race-based harassment or hate crime and haven't noticed any changes in the way people treat me, I see the racist behaviour of some people today and it saddens me because this is not the Canada I know.

What makes me proud of being Asian-Canadian is the people of my culture living in Canada and the contributions they make to this country. Whether it be as caregivers or health-care workers, child-care providers like me, or simply church volunteers, the resilience and conscientiousness of Filipino-Canadians is admirable and inspiring.

When I look back on the year, I remember discovering a new meaning for the word "hero" (health-care workers!) and people banging pots and pans in their honour on otherwise quiet streets. I also experienced my first Christmas without my children. I have moments when I feel that this pandemic is wearing me down, but for me, the only way to battle this is to keep doing good things for other people. 

If anyone out there there is looking for a purpose, all you need to do is look around you. One thing this pandemic has done is provide a myriad of opportunities for each of us to become better versions of ourselves.

The more I see the cracks that it causes in people, the more I am compelled to step up and fill in those cracks. Whether it's stepping up the safety of my daycare, staying home to keep my children safe or doing fundraisers for people who are compromised by COVID both here and back home in the Philippines.

COVID has definitely affected my daycare business but I am blessed and grateful that our government has been so supportive. Vaccines give me hope, as do people who reach out to help despite their own worries. 

There's always something to do to get through this in a positive way.

 


Jag Nagra, Pitt Meadows

Jag Nagra, artist and creative director of the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective, is pictured in Vancouver on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

My full name is Jagandeep Kaur Nagra and I was born in Surrey, B.C.

When my parents came to Canada from Punjab, India in the 70s and 80s, they left behind everything they knew for a brand new country and culture, and my siblings and I had to figure out how to live within these two vastly different cultures. 

In many ways, we had to downplay our identities in an attempt to show others that we were like them. There's been a lot of dialogue on social media about how South Asians had to "white wash" their names to fit in, and that's very true for so many of us. And for a long time, I kept a bottle of Febreeze in my car so that it wouldn't smell like Indian food or scents. I was mortified at the thought of being seen as different, rather than feeling proud to come from a community and culture that's so diverse. 

I have faced microaggressions. For example, at the grocery store when I'm checking out, the previously very chatty cashier suddenly gets quiet when it's my turn. Oftentimes, the only words the cashier says to me are the price and sometimes they don't even look at me. It's aggravating. My white wife doesn't share this experience, but my best friend who is Asian does. We text each other when cashiers ignore us as sort of a tally we're keeping. It happens all the time.

I'm the Creative Director of the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective and as I get older and become more connected to other South Asians through my work, the prouder I feel of my identity. I didn't grow up around a lot of Indian people outside of my family so there was somewhat of a disconnect for me. But through my work in the Punjabi Market, I'm getting to know a new side of my identity. I feel fiercely proud of our culture, our languages, our food, our skin colour and our art.

Being a queer South Asian and finding my place in the world hasn't been easy. I remember not feeling Indian enough, not feeling "Canadian" enough, not feeling queer enough, not feeling girly enough. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel proud to be exactly who I am. There's a lot of empowerment in seeing your community stand together. When you see representation, you see yourself.

 


Young Suh, New Westminster

Master Young Suh, OMAC Taekwondo school owner, is pictured in New Westminster on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and my family immigrated to Canada in 1977.

I grew up in a small town in Southern Ontario which had a population of around 1,200 people. Being the only Asian family living there, we did get a lot of strange looks in the beginning. I got into a lot of fights during that time, being called "ch**k" and people giving me the slant eye. Being in grade 2, I was scared. My father told me, "if anyone is being racist towards you, fight them" so I did and consequently got sent to the principal's office a LOT. Every time my father met me at the principal's office he would ask me in Korean, "did you win?" and my answer was "yes." Eventually all the bullies accepted me and we became friends.

Today, as a martial arts business owner and instructor in the Lower Mainland, the youth that I teach inspire me. The youth of today, especially the ones I work with, are more compassionate, understanding, and overall have kinder souls than the past generations.

I love teaching youth and when my studio's taekwondo instructor contracted COVID in the fall of 2020, I saw it as an opportunity to do more of what I love. I don't see the point in harping on things in a negative way – it just brings the energy down. I just try my best to be a positive role model to our students and to be a productive member of society. 

What makes me proud is the acceptance that I've experienced living in Canada. As a Korean-Canadian who's been in Canada for 44 years, I've travelled all over the country, and while I experienced some racism as a child, overall people have been kind, generous and helpful. I see nothing but a good future for Canada.

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