Why some Asian-Canadians in N.L. want more people to learn about their heritage and culture

·4 min read
From left to right, Aravind Muthusamy, Tina Li and Ting-ting Chen. (Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy, Tina Li, Ting-ting Chen - image credit)
From left to right, Aravind Muthusamy, Tina Li and Ting-ting Chen. (Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy, Tina Li, Ting-ting Chen - image credit)
Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy, Tina Li, Ting-ting Chen
Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy, Tina Li, Ting-ting Chen

Ting-ting Chen says she was once too afraid to leave her home in St. John's.

Chen, a photographer and PhD student at Memorial University, came to Newfoundland from China in 2018. A couple of years after immigrating to the province, she experienced three instances of anti-Asian discrimination.

"In 2020 when the pandemic first broke out, I can feel that the atmosphere is changing in a little bit of a weird way," said Chen.

"Some people just became not so friendly anymore to me because I have Asian faith."

Submitted by Ting-ting Chen
Submitted by Ting-ting Chen

Her first two experiences with anti-Chinese racism left her too scared to walk outside alone. By the third, when she was accosted by two teenagers shouting racist remarks at her, she had gained the courage to share her story with others. She says things have gotten better since she spoke out but more can be done to ensure what happened to her doesn't happen to others.

"Hatred towards Asians or any certain race is not born — it's taught," said Chen.

"I think our society should promote Asian culture a little bit more so that more people know about us and our culture."

Learning fosters mutual understanding

Chen says she believes the racism she's experienced is due to misinformed beliefs about Asian people and the COVID-19 pandemic. She says sharing stories about Asian culture and heritage, as well as the contributions Asian-Canadians have made to the province, can help counteract these misconceptions.

"Asian people are actually our precious heritage here in Newfoundland.… Though they were coming from away, now they're our brothers and sisters," she said.

"Every day should remind us that the heritage of a certain culture is important, we should respect each other. We shouldn't have any biased ideas or opinions towards other people."

Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy
Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy

Aravind Muthusamy, the owner of East Atlantic Tandoor, an Indian restaurant in Grand Falls-Windsor, says many customers have expressed interest in learning more about his home country and the food he cooks, and that Newfoundlanders enjoy listening to his stories.

He says more opportunities to have similar conversations could help Asian-Canadians feel part of the Newfoundland community.

"I would love to see more gatherings and cultural programs," he said.

"Food and culture brings people together.… Some sort of activities will definitely help to get more awareness to people about [Asian heritage]."

Addressing challenges in smaller towns

While Muthusamy hopes to see more events like food festivals in the province, he said there are other things people should learn about Asian culture to help immigrants feel supported.

For example, certain international foods, like traditional Indian spices, that can be purchased in grocery stores in St. John's aren't as readily available in smaller towns like Grand Falls-Windsor, he noted.

Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy
Submitted by Aravind Muthusamy

While it might seem a mere inconvenience to some, he says these experiences can be difficult for newcomers. Muthusamy has spoken to a few people who have left the province because they felt there was a lack of resources in smaller communities.

If more people were aware of these challenges, Muthusamy said, Asian-Canadians could feel more at home in a new country.

"Everything goes back to our roots. It's quite important to recognize the fact of where you come from, what's your culture, what are your food habits," he said.

"This stuff cannot be forgotten and this needs to be recognized. And we should be proud to showcase that to the people here."

Tina Li immigrated from China to Newfoundland in 1999. A few years after settling into the province, her family opened a Chinese restaurant in St. Alban's. They have since relocated to Clarenville, where they hoped to share their food with more people.

Submitted by Tina Li
Submitted by Tina Li

Living in a small town like Clarenville, Li says she doesn't know many Asian people outside of her family with whom she can share her Chinese culture with. She says not having children makes this even more challenging, because a lot of traditions are maintained through generations.

But she says sharing stories and having more conversations with community members can help build awareness of Asian culture and heritage. It's a learning process, one she's familiar with.

"[My family] came to Newfoundland 20-something years ago. Our first and only stop will be Newfoundland," said Li.

"We are half Newfie and learn the Newfie culture. So it would be nice for a Newfoundlander or Canadian to learn a bit of our Chinese culture."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting