Calgary·Filipino Bureau

How the target of a racist slur is using his art to encourage others to speak up

A Filipino-Chinese man hopes his photography moves people to recognize the stories of hardship and hard-won success that have made Calgary's Chinatown what it is.

Alphonse Uy will donate all proceeds from his images to the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary

Alphonse Uy, a 28-year-old Filipino-Chinese Calgarian, is sharing a recent racist encounter in the hopes that other people will speak up, too. (Submitted by Alphonse Uy)

Alphonse Uy was walking home last week in Calgary's East Village when someone in a passing truck rolled down the window and hurled an extremely offensive racial slur at him.

For a moment, he stood frozen on the sidewalk with three bags of groceries hanging off his arms and no idea what was happening. 

"It was an absolute moment of shock," said Uy, who is Filipino-Chinese. "I just kind of blanked out, because … no one is really ever prepared for that kind of vitriol."

Stories of anti-Asian racism have attracted greater attention since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with numerous reports of verbal abuse, harassment and physical violence across Canada.

Calgary's Chinatown as it stands today was established in 1910, just south of the Bow River. (Alphonse Uy)

But it's one thing to read about it, and another thing to experience it firsthand, Uy said. 

"I've lived in Calgary for most of my life and I've never, ever experienced that, ever."

When Uy got home and told his roommate what had happened, he began to process what he was feeling. Muddled among the embarrassment, confusion and misplaced feelings of shame, Uy was angry. 

"It was very hurtful, and I was very angry. This is something that I wouldn't expect from my home city at all."

Using his art to stir the conversation

So Uy decided to something about it.

On Friday, his 28th birthday, he went for a walk in Chinatown with his camera in hand and a mind to indulge one of his favourite hobbies.

As he was capturing images of family-owned businesses and storefronts in the neighbourhood, he began to think about the rich history of the place and his own Chinese heritage.

'To me, black and white makes me think about the history of a specific picture,' Uy says. 'And I kind of wanted to make the viewer ponder about what is it behind each of these signs. There's always a story behind those.' (Alphonse Uy)

Uy is now selling black and white prints of those photos online, and he plans to donate all proceeds to the Centre for Newcomers, an organization that connects new Calgarians with resources and opportunities.

"It's something that's near and dear to me, because at one point, me and my mom were also newcomers to this country, and it can be scary," Uy said.

He hopes his photos encourage people to see beyond the signage and recognize the personal stories of hardship and hard-won success that have made Chinatown what it is. 

"Chinatown is the product of generations' worth of perseverance and hard work. Behind every door comes an immigrant's story of struggle and success in the face of adversity," he said.

And by speaking about what happened, he also wants to encourage others who experience racism to speak up.

Uy shared his story on Instagram and posted these photos, announcing his fundraising initiative for the Calgary Centre for Newcomers. (Alphonse Uy)

"Typically there's a level of shame and there's a level of insecurity that comes with it — and understandably so. It's a sensitive topic to talk about. But I do think people need to start being more vocal about it," he said.

"In this time of misplaced anger and hatred, people see other people as nothing but just that common worker, that Asian, or that person who is spreading the pandemic," Uy said.

"And people forget that every person has their own story."