The month of May signals a distinct kind of vibrancy across Canada as we celebrate Asian Heritage Month. Across the country, Asian history, arts, heritage and culture are being fêted to highlight the significant contributions Asian Canadians have put towards building Canada.
History discloses that when Canada was in direct need of inexpensive and easily exploitable labourers to complete the transcontinental railway or to work in the lumber mills, coal mines and fisheries, Asian immigrants came to fill the workforce. For many Asian immigrants their initial experiences in Canada proved to be immensely difficult as they had to endure severe forms of racism, and enormous social and political barriers.
For example, in 1902, the Royal Commission on Immigration declared all Asians as, "unfit for full citizenship…obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state." As such, restrictive and draconian immigration legislation policies were put effect and severe limitations were placed on Asians permanently immigrating to Canada, while the number of temporary foreign workers in usually low paying and dangerous industries increased substantially.
In 2011, there is no doubt that Asian-Canadians enjoy some distinct triumphs as compared to their predecessors. However, in other ways conditions are sometimes reminiscent of the past in terms of sacrifices and struggles in securing a safe space in Canada. For instance, the federal Conservative immigration regime has exponentially increased the number of temporary migrant workers coming to Canada as compared to permanent resident immigrants in recent years.
Disenfranchisement still thrives for many Asian “would-be” immigrants as full citizenship continues to serve as both “a carrot and a stick” to migrant workers, many of whom come from Asia. None of this is acceptable in an allegedly free and democratic society such as Canada. We must all constantly strive to protect the rights of migrant workers, and aid in their empowerment.
Across Canada UFCW Canada Local Unions and members are joining in the celebrations of Asian History month. For instance, on May 3rd, we join our sisters and brothers in the labour community for the 4th Annual May Day & South Asian Heritage Celebration co-hosted by Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA).
This month and every month, let the stories of our Asian sisters and brothers be told not just as an interesting curiosity but as they truly are - a vital part of Canadian history.
Vol. XI No. 18 • May 2, 2011