Recognition, resilience and resolve; Canada celebrates Asian Heritage Month

May marks the start of Asian Heritage Month, and for many Asian-Canadians, it's a time to reflect on the resilience and determination many have displayed in the past, and continue to display today.

When Halifax resident Eugene Tan started out as a lawyer 25 years ago, some didn’t recognize his culture.

"The only holiday my family really celebrates is Chinese New Year. So I'd be going to court and I'd be booking with the courts, and I'd say 'Oh, I can’t do that date, that’s Chinese New Year'," says Tan.

"People would kind of just look at me blankly and say 'Well, that’s not a holiday'."

Times have changed, but Tan thinks some of the dialogue hasn’t.

"Frequently when people talk about diversity they don’t mean Asians. They don’t mean Chinese-Canadians. They don’t mean Korean-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians. It’s everything but," Tan says.

Dalhousie University professor Ajay Parasram believes Asian Heritage Month should highlight racism against Asian-Canadians.

"Things that were lawful were things that were explicitly racist, and explicitly anti-Asian," says Parasram. "Whether we’re talking about the Chinese head tax or the Japanese internment or the Komagatu Maru incident."

A report by advocacy groups shows between last March and December, Canada saw a surge in anti-Asian racism, including assaults against children and elders being spat on.

"What was interesting is they allowed other people to report it, because, you know, the thing about experiencing structural racism and individual experiences with racism is, you don’t necessarily think about going and reporting it," says Parasram.

At Young Jong NamGoong’s Korean restaurant, May is usually a busy month.

"May 5, there is Children’s day in Korea. May 8 there is Parent's Day," says NamGoong.

The theme of this year’s heritage month is recognition, resilience and resolve.

"It's fitting," says Tan.

Tan says growing up he was called many names, but his son, who is 10, doesn't know anything of them.

He says he believes that’s proof society has made positive steps.