Community

Asian Heritage Month in Ottawa: A virtual celebration of diversity, art and culture

The month of May is Asian Heritage Month. Although the celebrations look quite different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this month is an opportunity to acknowledge and reflect on the rich history and culture of Asian-Canadians and their contributions to our city and our country.

Finding new ways to celebrate from binge-watching Korean movies to playing Mahjong online

From left to right: Gita Nurlaila, William Lau, Jessica Zhu and Joseph Kim (Submitted )

The month of May is Asian Heritage Month. Although the celebrations look quite different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this month is an opportunity to acknowledge and reflect on the rich history and culture of Asian-Canadians and their contributions to our city and our country.

We connected with several local people via email to find out how they are marking Asian Heritage Month while at home, and we asked them why it's important to observe this month in Ottawa. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

From practicing Peking opera dance to cooking kimchi fried rice, here's how they are celebrating.

Joseph Kim

Joseph Kim cooks a popular Korean dish called dak-galbi. It’s a stir-fry of spicy, marinated chicken, vegetables and Korean red pepper paste called gochujang sauce. (Submitted by Joseph Kim)

For Joseph Kim, 2020 is a special year. It marks 20 years of living in Canada. Born in Seoul, Korea, Kim was raised in Toronto and came to Ottawa to attend graduate school at Carleton University. 

Q: What are you doing to mark Asian Heritage Month this year?

To mark Asian Heritage Month, I am supporting my Korean heritage by cooking Korean meals and watching Korean movies and shows. 

I plan to cook kimchi fried rice and stew [and] eggplant stuffed with ground beef marinated in Korean-style spicy sauce. 

Q: How is that different from previous years given the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely changed my life in terms of adapting to home confinement, which is a limiting factor to actively participate in Asian Heritage Month activities this year. However, I plan to celebrate at home as much as I can. 

Q: Why is it important to recognize Asian Heritage Month in Ottawa?

It is important to celebrate to recognize the contributions and achievements of the diverse Canadians of Asian descent that make up our communities.

It is also an opportunity to learn about historical journeys and the struggles of Asian-Canadians, and to remind ourselves of the diversity and multicultural values that are the core foundation of Canada. As a Korean-Canadian, I would encourage Canadians to partake in celebrating Asian Heritage Month by researching and learning about diverse Asian cultures.

Jessica Zhu

Jessica Zhu has been taking advantage of the extra time she has to catch up on reading for pleasure. (Submitted by Jessica Zhu)

Colonel By Secondary School student Jessica Zhu is the chair of her school's Asian culture club and wants to remind people that you don't have to be Asian to celebrate this month. 

The 17-year-old is preparing to graduate from school this spring, but, in the meantime, she's celebrating her heritage in a variety of ways. 

Q: What are you doing to mark Asian Heritage Month this year?

I have been spending my time with my family and keeping in contact with my relatives in China. I've recently been offered an opportunity to make English subtitles for some Asian dramas. So, I've been doing some translation in my free time. I have also started reading some Chinese novels to make use of my free time since I usually don't have the time to read leisurely due to school and extracurriculars. 

Q: Are you cooking any special meals to celebrate? 

I have made some dumplings together with my family. Making dumplings from scratch is always a fun activity to do with family as everyone can take part in the making process. 

Q: Why is it important to recognize Asian Heritage Month in Ottawa?

It's important to recognize the thousands of Asians of various backgrounds and ethnicities. But, more importantly, recognizing the diversity that exists in the Asian community in Ottawa (an Asian could be someone of Indian descent, Vietnamese descent, Korean descent, etc.) is one step toward recognizing the diverse cultures we have in Canada. 

William Lau

William Lau plays the role of the nine-tailed fox, which is a legendary female character who pocesses magical power. (Submitted by William Lau)

William Lau dances, trains and mentors Chinese-Canadian dancers and specializes in the Dan (female roles) in Peking opera. 

The full-time program manager is celebrating the diversity of Asian heritage from home this month.  

Q: What are you doing to mark Asian Heritage Month this year? 

[I want to] learn to say hello in different Asian languages and find an app to learn how to play my late grandmother's favourite game called "Mahjong" online. It's a tile-based game that was developed in China during the Qing dynasty.

Q: How is that different from previous years given the COVID-19 pandemic?

This year, we can only participate and observe the various programming online. Obviously, there's a reduction in the number of activities in order to respect social distancing. Personally, I will miss the interaction with participants, as well as the communal atmosphere of the events in the previous years.

Q: Tell us more about Peking opera.

Peking opera is a mixture of acting, singing and dancing (a bit like our musicals). The use of props such as fan, sword, flag, horse-whip, etc. are incorporated into the movements in order to express the inner feeling and/or the special skills of the characters. 

Q: Are you cooking any special meals to mark Asian Heritage Month?

Unfortunately, I am not much of a cook, so each week of the month I may order in different Asian cuisine or try different instant noodles from various Asian countries!

Gita Nurlaila

Gita Nurlaila plays the Angklung, a bamboo musical instrument from West Java, Indonesia. (Submitted by Gita Nurlaila)

Part-time musician and full-time public servant Gita Nurlaila would normally be practicing the Angklung, a traditional Indonesian bamboo instrument, as part of an ensemble. But, due to COVID-19, she has to settle for meeting with friends online and practicing at a distance. 

Q: What are you doing to mark Asian Heritage Month this year?

We [the Ottawa Asian Heritage Month Society] are planning to showcase a few Asian films online, followed by discussions. We are currently working directly with film producers in Indonesia to share a documentary film depicting Indonesian cultures.

Q: How is that different from previous years given the COVID-19 pandemic?

We usually host our movie screenings in Ben Franklin Place, collaborating with the Ottawa Public Library, followed by a dinner. This year's Asian Heritage Month coincides with Ramadan and Eid. Following the 'stay at home' advisory during this pandemic will allow more Muslims to join our Asian Heritage Month celebration at home.

Q: Why is it important to recognize Asian Heritage Month in Ottawa?

Canada has a very diverse population. Recognizing Asian Heritage Month in the National Capital Region is very important as it helps recognize the diversity of our population and our cultures and values that make us who we are today — uniquely Canadians. We understand each other, help each other, and together we are united to make Canada strong.