The month of May has been designated as Asian heritage Month in Canada, with the theme for 2021 being “Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve”.

Asian heritage embraces Canadians from East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, West Asian and Central Asian descents. Many in our team at Maple Diversity are of Asian descent, and there was a lot of excitement to learn about the contributions, stories, and culture of Canadians from other parts of Asia, and celebrate this rich diversity that makes our country so beautiful. Understanding, respect and togetherness is the way forward, to help overcome anti-Asian racism and discrimination.

As part of our Asian Heritage Month Inspiration Series, every member of Maple Diversity focused on one Asian region, to learn how Canadians of Asian descent have shaped our country. From literature, to ways of thinking, food, art, history, theater, sports, the month of May was truly an inspiring month of learning for us all.

Canadians of East Asian descent

Canadians of East Asian descent include people of Chinese, Korean and Japanese descent, who have contributed towards building Canada and bringing so many of their beautiful cultural influences here. Despite facing anti-Asian racism historically and even now in present times, these Canadians continue contributing to the progress of the country they love, Canada.

We learnt about Japanese internment camps during and after WWII, through the evocative Japanese art of Lillian Michiko Blakey a third generation Japanese Canadian. Her paintings are her personal tribute to the courage and resilience of her parents and Japanese Canadians who were forced to leave everything and work on farms, uprooting and separating families. Another artist Emma Nishimura uses traditional etchings on a traditional Japanese packaging called furoshiki, to tell the stories and keep memories alive. In September 1988, the Government of Canada formally apologized for their actions against Canadians of Japanese descent during the Second World War.

As fans of the Kim’s Convenience, a popular show about a Korean Canadian family and their convenience store in downtown Toronto, we resonated with the story of Appa, Umma and their children Jung and Janet, as immigrants and the children of immigrants alike. Actor Simu Liu (born in China and immigrated to Canada at 5 years old) who stars as Jung, has made history, being cast as the Marvel’s first Chinese superhero, in the highly anticipated Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

We were moved by William Dere’s Being Chinese in Canada, the first book to explore the work of the head tax redress movement and his community’s fight for justice. Still relevant with anti-Chinese racism prevalent today, this book looks at issues of cultural identity, inclusion and belonging, and what it takes to move forward as an individual and a community as a whole.

Canadians of West Asian and Central Asian descent

Our team deep dived into contributions from Canadians from Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, and also those of Central Asian descent hailing from countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Their diverse backgrounds bring colour to the fabric of Canada through art, culture and cuisine.

We learnt that in 1882, the first Arab immigrant to Canada, a Lebanese man Ibrahim Abou Nader arrived here from the city of Zahleh. He settled in Montreal. During the conflict in Syria, Canada reached out and by October 2020, over 44,620 Syrian refugees called this country home. Pre-pandemic, a colleague connected with a Syrian family through the sports team he coached. He was inspired by their family values, culture and amazing food. Their little girl embraced soccer and the family was warmly welcomed by the community. We also worked on perfecting their ‘Kibbeh’ and ‘Basbosa’.

One team member was so inspired by Iranian Canadians that she is now actually looking for volunteering opportunities with Iranian Canadian organisations. We were also inspired by Yasmin Khan who shared her Vaavishkaa recipe on the Munchies Test Kitchen. This ‘ultimate comfort food’ is a keeper for sure.

Canadians of Southeast Asian descent

Canada is home to people from many Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. On November 13, 1986, Canada was awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and in 2015 the Journey to Freedom Day Act, designated April 30th as a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance into Canada.

Our team reached out to the Filipino Canadian community to learn more about their contributions. In pandemic times this community has many on the front lines working as nurses, caregivers, and patient services. This warm and generous community is active in churches, reaching out to the less fortunate and also to those back home. We were fascinated by the energetic Tinikling dance which mimics the tikling bird jumping out of farmers traps. We’re also learning to make the soft, buttery Pandasel bread that is making its way into many Canadian bakeries.

Canadians of South Asian descent

South Asian Canadians immigrated from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Other than English, they have over 75 different mother tongues according to the 2001 Census, including Punjabi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi and Bengali, which they transfer to their children as well. Our colleagues of South Asian descent shared about their culture, their festivals, the huge variety of regional cuisines, their values, and more. These have help shape the colourful diversity that makes up Canadian identity today.

One co-worker of Canadian Indian descent has grandparents who were born in Pakistan. The food he grew up eating has inspirations from the Sindh province in Pakistan. He taught us how to cook Kadhi, a delicious combination potato, okra, cauliflower, peas, drumsticks and lotus root, served on rice.

We were also inspired by the work of artist P. Mansaram, curated by the South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC). This non-profit organisation is run by artists whose mission is to integrate artists and curators of colour into the mainstream Canadian art world. The Medium is the Medium is the Medium uses repetition as an art practice through a variety of media, to invoke unending feelings of travel through time, dimension and territory. His use of colour, space, symbols, themes and experimentation (with drawing, painting, text, printmaking and silkscreens) is truly fascinating.

We enjoyed learning about the immense contributions of the Asian community during Asian Heritage Month. We were inspired by these communities that have shaped the history and culture of our country. Understanding leads to respect for the fact that we are diverse yet one, beautiful Canada. We are sure looking forward to an office potluck once this pandemic is done!