British Columbia

Chinatown performance aims to bring healing after racist incidents

Organizer Ziyian Kwan says in the midst of planning the event at the Chinese Cultural Centre, she, herself, became the target of a verbal attack.

Organizer Ziyian Kwan says she experienced racial harassment while planning event

Ziyian Kwan performs in the courtyard near the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver on May 11 as part of a peaceful anti-racism performance. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In Vancouver's Chinatown Monday, a group of dancers, performers and artists gathered together — while still respecting physical distancing guidelines — in an act of solidarity and healing after an increase in racist attacks against those of Asian descent in the city. 

The Vancouver Police Department said 20 anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported to police as of last week. In comparison, there were 12 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in all of 2019.

The Chinese Cultural Centre, where the demonstration took place, had been defaced with racist graffiti at the beginning of April. 

Ziyian Kwan, a dancer and the organizer behind the demonstration, said she wanted to hold the performance as a "way to counteract the negative things that had been happening, with a peaceful action."

A group of dancers, performers and artists gathered Monday in Vancouver's Chinatown in an act of solidarity and healing after an increase in racist attacks in the city against those of Asian descent. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

However, Kwan herself was the victim of a racial verbal assault while she was planning the event. 

Kwan said she had biked her way to the Chinese Cultural Centre on Friday when a man stopped and yelled at her.

"What he said to me was: 'Take your bike back to where you came from. You people made this [expletive] up in Wuhan City. Now you've brought it here to Canada.'"

Although she was angry, Kwan biked away because she didn't want a further confrontation. 

"I talked with some friends and then I started weeping. To think, in this one incident, somebody articulated these words so precisely and wondering how many people are really thinking this."

Tuan Luu takes part in the anti-racism performance May 11. The Vancouver Police Department says 20 anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported to police as of last week, eight more than in all of 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Artist Paul Wong who took part said it is particularly painful people are emboldened to commit these racist actions.

"Now, it's not safe for the Chinese or Asians to be in Chinatown. This is an area where we were segregated and made as safe as possible," Wong said.

"It's like nothing has changed in the last 100 years."

Listen to the interview with Ziyian Kwan on The Early Edition: 

Ziyian Kwan speaks with Stephen Quinn about a racist verbal attack that she experienced and why her response is a peaceful demonstration. 5:56

Kwan, who is artistic director of the Dumb Instrument Dance company, shared her experience on Facebook where she received an overwhelming response. 

"Most, whom I don't know, [were] expressing their support, their dismay and their solidarity."

Sammy Chien takes part in the May 11 performance. The Chinese Cultural Centre, where the peaceful demonstration took place, had been defaced with racist graffiti at the beginning of April. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Monday's performance, which also coincides with Asian Heritage Month, involved a number of different artists and performers.

"I feel emboldened and almost as though the incident was a gift," said Kwan. "I have compassion for the person who said those words to me and the inequities that are here with us."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

With files from The Early Edition, Radio-Canada

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