Avvy Go, Clinic Director – Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic

Yet another video has gone viral within the social media platforms frequented by Chinese Canadians about a customer refusing to wear a mask inside a store.  At first brush, this video is no different from others as it depicts a white guy arguing with a clerk inside T&T, a Chinese supermarket, in Mississauga, over the wearing of a mask.

But 30 seconds into the video, the racist ideology of the customer rears its ugly head when he started to call mask-wearing a “Chinese communist lie”, and that COVID-19 is a “communist virus coming from Wuhan China …. just like you”, referring to the T&T clerk, who appears to be a Chinese Canadian man in his 60s.  But the insults did not end there.

As the customer continued on with his racist rant and demanding to know where the clerk came from, the latter could be heard repeatedly stating, “I am Canadian”.  In response, the customer said, with visceral contempt, “you are as Canadian as my butt”.

In total, the clerk repeated “I am Canadian” about 20 times, as if that was his only defence when confronted with unabashed, literally in-your-face, racism.

But then again, what else could we as Chinese Canadians say or do when words seem to fail to convey the anguish and profound sense of loss we feel when our very existence in the country we call home is being rejected?

Being a Canadian has not helped scores of Chinese Canadians and other Asian Canadians who have been attacked, both verbally and physically, on the street, in public transit, at work, and pretty much anywhere we go during this pandemic.  Indeed, our very identity as Canadian is under attack, when our loyalty to Canada is being questioned, and our decision to wear a mask, or not, is being linked to our race.

Not only do we have to contend with racism because of the colour of our skin, Chinese Canadians also have to fight against xenophobia because no matter how long we have lived in this country, how many generations of our families have settled here and how much we have contributed to the building of our nation, we are still regarded as foreigners.  As long as this country has been around, starting with the first Prime Minister John A MacDonald who called us “strangers in a strange land”, our right to belong has never been fully accepted.

At times like this when systemic racism is being openly discussed and acknowledged by officials at all levels of government, there has been no out-pouring of support for Asian Canadians battling anti-Asian racism.  No celebrities coming to the aid of this T&T clerk, who was simply doing his job by following his company’s policy and as of July 10, the order of his city, mandating all residents to don a mask while indoor.

This video was reminiscent of a similar incident back in March when a group of Asian Canadian women were kicked out of a Metro store in Toronto for wearing masks.  They too were berated by a white customer, but with the support of the store employees.  As in the case of the T&T clerk, the Canadian public turned a blind eye, while the demand from a Chinese Canadian advocacy group to Metro to explain their action has been left unanswered.

Since when has wearing a mask and requiring others to wear one become a crime?  The answer: when you are Asian.

When I hear the T&T clerk declaring over and over again “I am Canadian”, I wonder how many more of us must do the same before the Canadian Government will hear our cries and take our issues seriously.  How much hope do we have to achieve true equality when the very strategy that Canada has adopted to combat racism does not even acknowledge the existence of anti-Asian racism?

As more and more cities begin to make mask wearing mandatory, I fear there will be more attacks on our community. Just as Chinese Canadians have been blamed for bringing the virus to Canada, we will be blamed by the anti-maskers for being forced to wear a mask designed to protect all of us from getting the virus.

All I can do is ask my fellow Canadians, I am Canadian, but do you see me as one?

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