It was six months into the pandemic when I remember feeling like things were getting worse.
Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, I was no stranger to anti-Asian racism. I can remember being as young as four years old and being bullied in the school yard because of my Chinese heritage. The other kids would steal my jacket in the middle of winter, throw sand in my eyes and sing something they called the "Ching Chong Song."
Unfortunately, casual racist encounters are something I've had to learn to deal with over time. But it was in the summer of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, that I started to feel a shift for the worse – when the microaggressions I encountered from time to time seemed to be occurring on a near-daily basis.
I can remember distinctly standing in line at my local grocery store in the Greater Toronto Area, waiting patiently with dozens of other shoppers for my turn to go inside. It was then that I noticed a man staring aggressively at me.
At first, I thought I had done something wrong. Or I had something on me that was out of place. I scanned the line and quickly realized that he was only showing his aggression towards me.
An Asian woman; the only Asian in line.
He continued to behave this way, quietly seething at me in anger while saying nothing. Thankfully, nothing happened.
I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but weeks later, I saw a viral video of an incident that happened in another grocery store that I also visit frequently.
A white man was verbally abusing an Asian employee, telling him that he should “go home,” insinuating that he couldn’t possibly belong here in Canada.
The employee kept saying “I’m Canadian, I’m Canadian!” It was clear the employee didn't know how else to defend himself. At that moment I started becoming afraid – it could have been me in that store.
Feeling like a stranger in my own country
Since the outset of the pandemic, reports of acts of hate against Asians in Canada have been on the rise. According to a report from the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, and Project 1907 – a grassroots community group made up of Asian women – acts of hate against Asians in Canada grew 47% in 2021 above 2020 levels.
It's an alarming trend, and one that must not be allowed to continue.
I think what upsets me the most about these racist incidents is how many of them include rhetoric aimed at telling me or someone else to "go home" and that I simply don't belong here, in my home country of Canada. In the eyes of many, I look different, so clearly this can't be my home. To be made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in my own country hurts me in a way that is difficult to articulate.
After these incidents, I started feeling afraid to go out in public, and I felt shame when I started to take steps to hide my ethnicity in public. It went so far as me asking my husband if I looked less Asian with my blonde highlights and sunglasses.
I didn’t like who I had become, and I no longer felt like myself. It got to the point where my tall, white, Russian husband had to accompany me during my weekly grocery trips.
But I soon found out I wasn't alone.
How TD is creating spaces to celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion
The first time I shared these stories was at an internal TD Diversity and Inclusion summit in 2020. I really opened up to the audience of my colleagues, and soon I began to receive calls and emails from others who shared their own stories and lived experiences with racism.
One sentiment we all seemed to share was that we saw things getting worse since the beginning of the pandemic, and that we needed to do more to help support one another.
At TD, I have been involved in anti-racism activities, and have been an active voice for Chinese employees across our footprint through Employee Resource Groups – which are internal teams that provide support for colleagues and advocate for progress at a grassroots level. These internal groups are now more important than ever.
I’m a long-time member of the Chinese Employee Network (CEN), and have recently taken on the role of chair of the Bank’s new Pan-Asian Employee Resource Group (ERG). Together with our colleagues, we're having more conversations and discussions to continue the Bank's efforts to further promote inclusion.
At TD, we believe that inclusion is key to combating racism in all its forms.
Our work to further our inclusive journey includes working to improve representation at the executive levels, creating spaces for open dialogue, continuing to host enterprise-wide colleague events, developing and delivering training on and awareness of pan-experiences of Pan-Asian colleagues and further exploring financial investment and volunteering in the Pan-Asian community.
But we know it doesn’t stop there. We need to continually push for on-going progress to effect lasting change.
TD and its ongoing commitment to supporting Pan-Asian communities
Of course, the work to combat anti-Asian racism must continue well beyond the walls of TD. That's why TD has provided funding to a number of Pan-Asian community organizations, including National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD) in the U.S. and the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) in Canada.
This year's $200,000 donation from TD to the CCNC-SJ will support the continuation of a three-year leadership development program aimed at helping emerging community leaders from Asian Canadian communities. As part of the program, the CCNC-SJ will work with 75 community leaders who are known in their communities as anti-racism champions to help them understand the impact of systemic racism and help them to develop strategies they can use in their community to cultivate allyship and engage their community to bring about change.
I want to live in a reality where there isn’t a constant rhetoric of telling me, and others who look like me, to “go home.” We are Canadians and we value diversity and are committed to inclusion. We belong here, just like you, and we are committed to educating all Canadians on the value and importance of diversity and inclusion
It’s uncomfortable to write about experiences with anti-Asian hate – but it’s far more uncomfortable to not push for progress.