This Asian Heritage Month, locals reflect on their immigration stories, anti-Asian racism

CBC News spoke with three members of Windsor-Essex's Asian community during Asian Heritage Month about their journey to Canada and what this time means to them.

'Telling the positive stories of how we contributed to Canadian society is incredibly important'

Jhoan Baluyot (left), Antoni Tambunan (centre), Kaiyuan Zheng (right) shared their stories of coming to Canada and reflected on Asian Heritage Month. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Local resident Kaiyuan Zheng wants to see more members of the Asian community in public service jobs across Windsor-Essex. 

And he hopes to be one of them, as he works toward becoming a Windsor police officer. 

"We are a visible minority, now we are almost invisible in terms of some public service in the City of Windsor," he said. 

Zheng is one of three people in Windsor-Essex's Asian community who CBC News spoke with to reflect on Asian Heritage Month. The Canadian government has nationally recognized May as a month dedicated to celebrating people of Asian descent and this year's theme is Recognition, Resilience and Resolve. 

As a newly elected member and long-time volunteer of the Essex County Chinese Canadian Association (ECCCA), Zheng says there are service gaps for the local Asian community and he's one of many who are working toward making improvements. 

Zheng became a permanent Canadian resident in 2017, after completing an undergraduate degree in the United States. Now he's hoping to place his "family roots" down in Windsor. 

But becoming a police officer wasn't something he had planned. 

Originally from Liaoning,China, Zheng joined the University of Windsor for a masters degree in management. 

People aren't always nice, especially when they see an Asian face walking around in the hospital. People won't say it straight to my face, but I can always tell.- Kaiyuan Zheng

But after hearing a former Windsor police officer speak about his career, Zheng said he was "inspired."

He's currently working as a security guard for Windsor Regional Hospital — a role that he says has forced him to grow "thick skin." 

"People aren't always nice, especially when they see an Asian face walking around in the hospital. People won't say it straight to my face, but I can always tell. It's just difficult sometimes, but got to get used to it," he said. 

Zheng completed a masters degree in business management at the University of Windsor. But he's since decided to take on a new career path and is working on becoming a Windsor police officer. (Submitted by Kaiyuan Zheng)

Aside from the challenges in his job, Zheng said the pandemic has been personally difficult. 

"It really hurts when people call it the Wuhan virus," he said. 

"My mom always worry about me ... my wellness, she saw the news, especially from the [United] States, people from the street attacking Asians and she would tell me to be careful and if I see a problem I need to move away from the problem." 

Through ECCCA, Zheng said he volunteers to help out seniors in his community access healthcare services by being a language interpreter. 

'We are all immigrants'

More than 20 years later, Antoni Tambunan describes his move to Canada as an "adventure." 

But it was more than that. 

With only a few belongings in tow, Tambunan left his family and friends behind in Indonesia to look for new opportunities in Windsor-Essex. 

Antoni Tambunan has lived in Tecumseh, Ont. for about 20 years. He immigrated to Canada in 1998 for new opportunities. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

He arrived in the region in 1998 and went to St. Clair College for an English language course. In his early 30s, he was starting over, having left behind a tourism business and journalism gig. 

"[I was] afraid, excited, missing stuff like home like all the lifestyle and the slow pace. Here is going very fast pace," the 55-year-old told CBC Windsor. 

Though the initial leap was scary, he's since had a successful career at Caesars Windsor -- working at the casino for 15 years. 

He says his efforts led him to be the first Canadian to win a Rose Award from Michigan, which recognizes people for their excellence in hospitality service. 

Though he's lived and worked in Canada for quite some time, Tambunan says he still faces discrimination for his accent — something he worries about for other newcomers. 

This month is one that reminds him of the multicultural fabric of Canada. 

Antoni Tambunan has worked at Caesars Windsor for 15 years. For his great service, the casino put up a picture honouring him. (Submitted by Antoni Tambunan)

"We just have to remind [ourselves] that we are all immigrants, we are not native people. Some peoples have been here longer than others, [but] just be kind and if you can help then help them," he said.

"Don't look at them [like they are] rude or look at them like [they are] stupid or dumb because they are not, they are so brave to come here .. .they come here to build their future in Canada."

Tambunan became a citizen on Canada day in the early 2000s. 

'I don't want to shield them'

At six months old, Jhoan Baluyot travelled to Canada from the Philippines. She came with her 21-year-old mom and one year old sister. Her family briefly lived in Hamilton before moving to Windsor, where she grew up. 

As an adult, Baluyot says she's come to appreciate the journey her parents decided to take some 40 years ago. 

Jhoan Baluyot's mom Felicitas, her dad Warlino and her sister Lyn (right), experiencing their first winter in Canada. (Submitted by Jhoan Baluyot)

"Going for a 24 hour flight, across the globe, to somewhere you don't know anybody, you don't know the language, you don't know what to expect, I mean courageous is just kind of the tip of the iceberg and then it really is starting about  anew life and opportunity for their children," she said. 

Now, she's making sure to educate her own children, who are mixed race, on their background and ways to confront anti-Asian racism. 

Jhoan Baluyot's three children: Rowyn (left), Xavier (middle) and Findlay (right). (Submitted by Jhoan Baluyot)

"I don't want to shield them so much so that they think that that stuff doesn't happen, they should be aware of it so they know how to engage with it and inform themselves and others about it," she said. 

"The focus on Asian heritage I think comes at a very critical time when there is this anti-Asian hate happening right now, so I think telling the positive stories of how we've contributed to Canadian society is incredibly important."


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