Asian Heritage Month

By Cecilia Ho, Co-Director of Professional Development - CPRS Vancouver

May marks Asian Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich history, culture, and contributions of Asians and Asian Americans. As communicators, we understand the power of storytelling, and in the spirit of this month, I want to share a personal reflection on representation and authenticity in the stories we tell.

Initially tasked with writing a blog post for Asian Heritage Month, I grappled with the challenge of representing the broad spectrum of Asian heritages. As a Chinese-Canadian, I questioned the fairness of focusing solely on my own experiences, given the relatively prominent representation of my community compared to others within the Asian diaspora. However, I soon realized that the most genuine contribution I could make would be to speak from my own perspective. Throughout this month, I commit to exploring the diverse stories from different Asian heritages and I invite you to join me in this endeavor. A list of resources is available below. 

Way back in school, I always felt a sense of dread when the inevitable unit on Chinese immigration to Canada came up. The study material always had the same story, which began with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, climaxed at the imposition of a head tax and the legislative exclusion of Chinese immigrants, and concluded with an apology from the federal government. My discomfort with the unit stemmed from the fact that these lessons often portrayed Chinese-Canadians as mere victims of discriminatory policies, culminating in a belated government apology.

Recently, I visited the Victoria Chinatown Museum and it completely reshaped my view. To be frank, I hesitated going in, bracing myself for the same story that framed Chinese-Canadians as victims of discrimination. However, I left with a completely different perspective. 

Certainly, I learned more about the extent of discrimination. For example, I was unaware of many aspects of our community's segregation and discrimination, such as the exclusion from public schools in Vancouver in 1914 and the establishment of segregated schools in Victoria in 1922. Yet, the museum's narrative didn't frame Chinese-Canadians as victims. Instead, it highlighted their resilience and agency. For the first time, I learned stories of Chinese-Canadians organizing protests and raising significant funds to fight unfair treatment—like the $7,000 collected in Victoria (equivalent to about $120,000 today), a considerable sum given their restricted employment opportunities.

I also learned about trailblazers like Agnes Chan and Victoria Cheung, who became the first Chinese-Canadian nurse and doctor in 1923, amidst rampant discrimination. 

As I completed my loop around the exhibit, the museum volunteer waved me over and showed me a wall of portraits of Chinese-Canadian immigrants from the era. She took care in explaining the backstories of a few, highlighting the entrepreneurs, the socialites and the community organizers - their mere existence was already galaxies apart from the Chinese-Canadian experience I was taught. 

Hearing these stories of defiance and achievement—not through a lens of pity but of pride—was profoundly impactful.

This experience underscored for me the critical importance of who tells our stories and how they are told. As communicators, we wield immense power in shaping narratives. The representation behind the scenes, while the "textbook" is being written, is crucial. During Asian Heritage Month, let us commit to fostering a storytelling culture that celebrates authenticity, includes diverse voices, and honours the full complexity of our histories. After all, the true art of storytelling lies not just in recounting events, but in awakening a shared sense of humanity and resilience.

Next month (June), CPRS Vancouver will be hosting our annual AGM at the Chinese Storytelling Centre. As a mix of a shameless plug and a full-circle moment, if you’re a member I hope you’ll join us on the evening of Tuesday, June 18. I know I will be exploring the exhibit there after so I can continue to learn through stories told by the community itself. 


Watch Tiger!, the journey of “Tiger” Jeet Singh, a Punjabi-Canadian immigrant who became Japan’s most popular professional wrestler. Or check out other films here.