Asians standing tall
During a one-on-one with Dr Gina Wong, founder of the initiative Asian Gold Ribbon, she discloses how the initiative is helping to shed light on Asian hate crimes, a cause whose due date is long overdue.
Instances of Asian hate crimes have soared across the United States and Canada, especially in cities with sizable Asian populations. From March 19, 2020, to December 31, 2021, a total of 10,905 hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons were reported to Stop AAPI Hate. In a report released by the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter and Project 1907, there were 943 reports of racist incidents across Canada last year, a 47% increase over 2020.
"Seeing the atrocities, the lives of Asian men and women lost, for simply being Asian, and wanting a better future for my daughters, motivated me to keep fighting," discloses Dr Gina Wong. Born in Montreal to Chinese immigrant parents, the Canadian native is a psychologist and professor, advocating for perinatal mental health awareness and was recently awarded the 2022 Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association Leadership Award. An award recognized by the Human Rights Commissioner of Canada, Marie-Claude Landry.
In 2021, she brainstormed ideas for what was to become the Asian Gold Ribbon Campaign and was later joined by co-founder Sheila Wong to develop the initiative. The Asian Gold Ribbon Campaign is an initiative devoted to developing social change and initiating widespread visibility in the face of escalating anti-Asian violence. What began as a modest campaign to raise awareness in the time since its inception has become an energetic non-profit that has collectively engaged tens of thousands across the United States and Canada, demonstrating visible solidarity against anti-Asian racism. Last year, Asian Gold Ribbon had widespread impact, reaching 31.25 million people across 80 countries in 6 weeks. Wong shared that, "it isn't just on Asian Gold Ribbon Day to celebrate Asians and stand against anti-Asian racism. And it's not just in May, during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States and Asian Heritage Month in Canada, that we should reflect and consider Asians. I am Asian every day of the year, and the issues that our communities face continue to happen. People can support throughout the whole year by getting involved, speaking up, and speaking out against racial injustices in all forms." Wong remarked that starting the Asian Gold Ribbon wasn’t a choice, “I was propelled by something deeper and knew something needed to be done.”
- The campaign first came to life when you publicly shared your own experiences of anti-Asian racism growing up. Tell us about that.
I started sharing my experiences of painful anti-Asian racism growing up as a young girl in Montreal, Canada, in some news and media interviews I was involved in. It was strange to speak about experiences I had never said out loud to anyone before and in such a public way. It started a reprocessing, or I might say processing of things I had tucked away. I was acknowledging and reflecting on the impact racism had on me for the first time. I unwittingly believed that something was wrong with me. Something was hateful about how I looked and acted simply because I was Asian. This pain inspired me to envision a world that could be different for my daughters. I wanted to incite change for a new generation of Asians feeling pride in who they are.
-By publicly speaking about this, what have you learnt that has translated into valuable life lessons?
One of my favourite quotes begins with, "Run from what's comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious." To me, this means that we need to push ourselves, take risks, and do what we fear in order to inspire changes we wish to see in the world. The invaluable lesson for me has been that doing what’s comfortable only yields predictable results. Change comes from bold action. I also learned that vulnerability and sharing pain resonates with others because perfection leads to disconnection with self and others. I came to the conclusion that relationships are what matters the most and community is essential in racial justice work because it is emotional and exhausting labour.
– What is your proudest moment connected to Asian Gold Ribbon (AGR)?
Hearing the Asian youth speak up and speak out and seeing that they are not going to be a silent, invisibilized generation. I hear them say things I could not say when I was their age. It also means so much to gain support from different organisations such as Hennessy and federal and local government leaders. The Burrard Street Bridge and City Hall in Vancouver, for example, were lit in gold for AGR Day, as well the Toronto sign and Princes’ Gates at Exhibition Place in Toronto. That means so much to me and AGR that pride in being Asian is show in these visible ways.
– Talk about the importance of having a voice and making that voice heard.
As an Asian woman, voice has been something I've struggled with and that others have not bestowed naturally to me. It's unnatural for me to be in media and speak out, and it takes me a lot to prepare and work up the confidence. As an academic, I have worked on having a strong voice for nearly 20 years. But I must, and we must grow our voice and ensure we are heard. Once we voice up, we must follow it up, hold others accountable to respond, and continue to speak and hold our ideas as valuable.
– Tell us why somebody should get involved in the Asian Gold Ribbon campaign?
Because we are a campaign founded on a genuine desire to incite change, to stop history from repeating itself in terms of the Yellow Peril and denigrating beliefs about Asians. We strive for a global reset to contribute to a momentum of change for pride in being Asian. We demand bold changes, not just talk where what we fight for reverberates in the echo chambers that only ourselves can hear. AGR is a platform developed to reflect awareness and solidarity, initiating widespread visibility against anti-Asian racism through representation, visibility, voice, and education. Additionally, a core mission is raising funds to develop Asian mental health supports and programs across Canada that are accessible and affordable, as well as destigmatizing mental illness. We stand together to support healing, amplify Asian voices, and educate to raise awareness. We celebrate the beauty of the Asian culture and heritage and unite in solidarity against all forms of racism.
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