Serena Mah has experience firsthand how racism towards Edmonton’s Asian community has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former broadcast journalist turned communications specialist said last year someone spat on her then 12-year-old son while at a skateboard park and called him a derogatory name. During a storytelling workshop, she shared that story and began to choke up.
“I literally was standing up there with my heart in my throat,” Mah said. “Being in front of people isn’t new to me but being in front of people almost in tears about something so personal is new and it hit me. It was really hitting close to home.”
The issue of racism in North America was once again brought to the forefront following a mass shooting at an Atlanta spa on March 16 that left six Asian American women dead.
The Asian community isn’t the only one being targeted by violence. Recently, several Black and Muslim women have been attacked in Edmonton, with one of the first reported in December.
In an act of solidarity, anti-hate and anti-racism walks were held Saturday across communities including one in Edmonton, which went from Wong’s Benevolent Association on 96 Street to Churchill Square. Hundreds marched holding signs saying ‘Stop Hate’, ‘We All Deserve to be Safe’ and ‘Hate is a Virus.’
Speakers shared stories about being harassed daily because of the colour of their skin.
Most people who attended wore masks and organizers reminded participants to maintain six feet of physical distance in order to follow public health orders.
Mah said many incidents go under-reported.
“There’s mistrust of the authorities,” Mah said. “There’s also this myth…of the model minority. It’s the stereotype that’s used against Asians saying they’re hard workers, put your head down and don’t make trouble. It sounds like a good stereotype but it’s not. It’s used against Asian communities a lot.”
Since the start of the pandemic, 1,150 cases of racist attacks were reported across Canada, according to a March 23 survey by the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter.
While the majority of these cases took place in Ontario and British Columbia, 11 per cent of all reported incidents involved violence or unwanted physical contact, the survey said. About 10 per cent of cases involved someone being coughed at or spat on.
Mah said what needs to happen now is for political leaders to step up and take action.
“When you have past administrations at the highest level calling it ‘Kung Flu’ and being extremely racist that creates a hateful environment,” she said. “We need our leaders to lead. We need our leaders to speak up and we need our leaders to create an environment that is safe for everyone.”