Warning: This article contains strong language.
A Holland College journalism student says he felt he had to write about anti-Asian incidents on Prince Edward Island because he doesn't think Islanders realize how devastating it is for people on the receiving end.
"These incidents are quite rare on the Island but we do need to talk about them," Thinh Nguyen told Laura Chapin in an interview aired Friday on CBC's Island Morning.
"With the pandemic going on, we have experienced a kind of hate targeting us, which is not something that we deserve, because we do not cause the virus."
Nguyen, who is from Vietnam, wrote about two particular incidents in an April 7 post on his blog, The P.E.I. Thinh-ker.
Euston Street encounter
When he started mulling over the idea of writing a racism post, after recent media coverage of anti-Asian attacks and even killings elsewhere in North America, Nguyen wasn't sure there had been any incidents on P.E.I.
When he mentioned it to a friend, however, he was shocked to learn the 4th-year UPEI student had had a frightening experience in November.
The young man was hurrying along Euston Street, fearing he would be late for work, when he encountered a much bigger man, also older and white. Nguyen said his friend told him the man said: "Get the f--k away from me, you piece of s--t."
"My friend was absolutely terrified. He did not dare to say a word back. He just looked down on the ground and just kept walking and walking. And tried to hurry up to get to work."
When people are not in a situation that they have [ever] experienced before, they could not understand it. - Thinh Nguyen
When he got there, Nguyen said, the student told some of his Canadian-born co-workers about the experience, only to be told: "That man was just crazy, don't think about it."
Nguyen said he loves P.E.I. — "it's my favourite place in the world, actually" — but hearing about the co-workers' reaction left him "pretty heartbroken" because it seemed to him they didn't acknowledge racism could exist on the Island.
"They're just basically gaslighting his experience. They think: 'It's no big deal, that's just a crazy man.' So he didn't want to speak out.
"When people are not in a situation that they have [ever] experienced before, they could not understand it."
Confrontation at grocery store
Another threatening incident involved Cristian Ho, a student from Hong Kong who has just finished his third year at UPEI in Applied Communication, Leadership and Culture.
He and his roommate, who is from Japan, were picking up groceries in Charlottetown last April when they saw a man in his 50s staring at them. Ho says he and his friend were wearing masks, but the older man, who was white, was not.
"He slowly walked to us and he actually used his finger to point at us and say, 'Get out of my country, you f---ing Chinese.'"
Ho and his roommate were floored, especially since nobody around them in the store spoke up or offered any support, but just stared as the man continued to badger them.
I was pretty scared because I had never experienced something like this ever in my whole life.… The Asian hate, it's just spreading. - Cristian Ho
"We never left P.E.I. for the whole pandemic, so my chance of getting COVID is the same as him," Ho told Island Morning.
"The man was just blaming me … he said: 'My daughter is getting COVID because of you.' And I am like, 'What do you mean, because of me? I don't have COVID.'"
Ho said the man eventually walked away with his own groceries after muttering something like "If I catch you again I'm going to rip you apart."
The incident left Ho "angry, devastated and down," as well as questioning his faith in Canadians as tolerant, friendly people
"I was pretty scared because I had never experienced something like this ever in my whole life.… The Asian hate, it's just spreading."
Need to speak out
Nguyen said the P.E.I. Newcomers Association did launch a social media campaign to address these types of incidents early in the pandemic — something he was glad to see happen.
Ho agrees. And he said he decided to speak out now, after the recent continent-wide upswing in anti-Asian incidents, because it's the right thing to do.
"We are taught to, when something happens, we just swallow it and forget about it. But then like, I thought about it. This is not okay.... I have to voice out and let people know about this.
"I think people need to learn about basic respect to every single ethnicity in P.E.I."
Thinh said he continues to enjoy living on the Island and believes it is "generally a safe place for newcomers from other countries to come and live and settle."
However, he said, "With the pandemic going on, we have experienced a kind of hate targeting us, which is not something that we deserve, because we do not cause the virus."
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