Toronto

Anti-East Asian hate remains a problem in Toronto. A new campaign aims to shut it down

The city has unveiled a new "Toronto for All" campaign that aims to challenge residents to speak out against and shut down anti-East Asian hate.

Coun. Lily Cheng says campaign challenges residents to speak out, fight racism

Coun. Lily Cheng
Coun. Lily Cheng, who represents Willowdale, unveiled a new Toronto for All campaign on Wednesday against anti-East Asian racism and hate. (CBC)

When Toronto city councillor Lily Cheng was in Grade 5, she says she was harassed by three boys on her way home from school.

The boys ran out and called her "all the derogatory names you can think of that apply to a Chinese person" before assaulting her, Cheng recalls.

"That was a really difficult moment," she said.

Cheng says she didn't tell anyone what happened and didn't even have a name for racism, which she says she internalized. The hate left her with a bad feeling of being the "other" and a feeling that she didn't belong.

"I carried that thought into adulthood. So often I have felt like the person who just didn't fit in," she said.

That experience in part prompted her to run for municipal office years later, realizing that representation matters.

Now Cheng represents Willowdale, and on Wednesday, she announced a new "Toronto for All" campaign that aims to challenge residents to speak out against and shut down anti-East Asian hate.

Cheng says the initiative is the 14th such campaign in the city and reflects Toronto's commitment to addressing discrimination in its various forms and to promoting dialogue among residents. Previous campaigns have focused on antisemitism, anti-Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.

"What we really want to do is promote kindness," she said.

2nd such city-run campaign

The campaign is the second anti-East Asian racism initiative launched by the city. The first was in 2021, at the height of the pandemic. 

The new campaign features three different illustrations that highlight East Asian influences in Toronto, the city says. The illustrations depict a person enjoying a bubble tea, listening to K-pop music and learning Mandarin, the second most commonly spoken language in Toronto. 

"Through simple and direct questions, the campaign calls on people to consider what they can do to end anti-East Asian racism," the city said in a news release on Wednesday.

Campaign posters will appear on transit shelters, in community centres and libraries, on the city's social media accounts and its website. 

Cheng says the campaign was developed with the help of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, an organization that works to combat anti-Asian racism.

Amy Go
Amy Go, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, says in a news release: 'In a world and city where stereotypes and discrimination persist, we believe that education is a powerful tool to combat biases and promote understanding.' (CBC)

Amy Go, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, says the campaign is not only for public education, but also a call out for Toronto residents to reflect about the impact of their words and actions on other people and on racialized communities.

Go says anti-East Asian racism is still a serious issue in the city and it's systemic.

"The city recognizes that there is still very deep-seated hate against East Asian communities in Toronto," she said.

In the release, Go added: "In a world and city where stereotypes and discrimination persist, we believe that education is a powerful tool to combat biases and promote understanding."

'We have to continually build bridges,' councillor says

In an interview, Cheng said there was a spike in anti-East Asian racism during the pandemic and the campaign is a reminder to residents to fight racism.

The key is for residents to make friendships "outside of their comfort zone" because when people see other people as friends it's harder to make judgments and assumption, she said.

"We have to continually build bridges and spread this message," she said.

"I think it's important for people to know that racism still happens and sometimes it's overt and sometimes it's not. And actually when it's not overt, it's even harder," she says.

For example, in workplaces, there is something called the "bamboo ceiling" faced by Asian-Canadians in corporate culture that hinders career progress, said Cheng. 

"There are more subtle forms of racism that we have to address and it's really hard because it's so unseen," she said.

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