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Official recognition of Chinese Heritage Month in York Region fosters understanding, inclusion and unity

Recent designations of Chinese Heritage Months in York Region will serve as an opportunity to celebrate the vast contributions Chinese Canadians have made to the growth and development of the region, province and country, says the Markham councillor behind the move.

Members of York Region Council unanimously approved a motion by Regional Coun. Joe Li to officially proclaim February as Chinese Heritage Month on Feb. 22. The proclamation comes two weeks after Markham Council approved the same motion by Li for the city.

York Region is home to a large Chinese diaspora and Li thinks the proclamation will serve as an opportunity to celebrate the vast contributions Chinese Canadians have made to the growth and development of the region, province and country.

Last month was filled with various Chinese New Year celebrations.

GTA Community Engagement and Family Support (CEFS) community centre held their fourth three-generation New Year celebration on Feb. 17. On the eighth day of the first lunar month, more than 400 community members, including the elderly, parents and children, gathered to celebrate the auspicious Year of the Dragon.

In addition to a special exhibition of paintings and calligraphy with hundreds of exquisite works from the teachers and students of CEFS’ calligraphy and painting class, the celebration also showcased crafts like dough figurine, paper-cut, lantern-making and riddles.

“We want to provide a platform for our second and third generations of immigrants to learn the traditional Chinese culture," said Susan Li, director of CEFS.

On Family Day (Feb. 19), "We Are One Family - Traditional Chinese Costume Heritage Show," co-organized by Mayor Frank Scarpitti and Regional Coun. Alan Ho, was held at the Markham Civic Centre and welcomed around 500 residents. The show featured the richness of Chinese culture through traditional costumes, music and performances.

An ice dragon and lion dance team from Spring Dawn Cultural Center dazzled the Markham Outdoor Skating Rink on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year (Feb. 24). The flash mob-style performance blends traditional Chinese art with Canadian local culture, making it one of the most distinctive Lunar New Year celebrations of the year.

Li says for those opposed to the official designation of Chinese Heritage Month as potentially fueling division, they should see it instead as a way to deepen understanding and create inclusion and unity.

He added that although May has been celebrated in Canada and Ontario as Asian Heritage Month, and that Asia includes many countries and different cultures. With more Chinese Canadians calling York Region home, immigrants are invited to celebrate their own culture and identity.

He also noted that Canada celebrates not only Indian Heritage Month in November, but also Tamil Heritage Month in January.

"We plan to prepare for a massive program of ceremonies and events across York next year, because Chinese culture is not only about song and dance, but also includes calligraphy, chess and other forms of expression," Li said. "We will figure out how to better organize and celebrate the traditional culture that has been passed down for 5,000 years.”

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Markham Economist & Sun