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Local Chinese Canadians aim to counter COVID-19 backlash

Few racist incidents on Peninsula, says Community Engagement Society
Surrey-White Rock Community Engagement Society founder and president Cici Liang presents a certificate of appreciation to past Cornerstone Community Forum keynote speaker Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies. (Haimon Ying photo)

While Semiahmoo Peninsula residents join people worldwide hoping for immunity from COVID-19, there are indications that we are not entirely immune to the virus of hatred.

In the wake of statements by B.C. Premier John Horgan decrying racist attacks blaming Asian Canadians, and particularly those of Chinese descent, for the pandemic – as well as singer Bryan Adams walk-back of a controversial Instagram post that seemingly implied China was responsible for the virus – members of the Surrey-White Rock Community Engagement Society are seeking to counter veiled racism by highlighting positive actions of local Chinese Canadian residents in reaction to the crisis.

Since the escalation of anti-COVID measures in March, the Chinese-Canadian community has stepped up to do its part in combating the pandemic in many ways, including fundraising and donating protective equipment, they say.

READ ALSO: Peninsula-based society encourages political engagement

President Cici Liang – who founded the non-profit society two years ago primarily to help the local Chinese-Canadian community become more involved in the political process – said she has no doubt that most Peninsula residents understand that the coronavirus has nothing to do with Chinese immigrants.

But she, too, has heard of a few incidents in which local Chinese-Canadians have been the target of fear and anger.

“One of the members of our organization is in real estate sales – his picture is on the signs of houses for sale, with his name and phone number,” Liang said. “He told me that one day one older lady said to him ‘Go back to China – go back to your f—-ing China.’”

Ironically, the man has been living in Canada for a decade, she said.

READ ALSO: Surrey youth say discrimination, racism on the rise

“And one of my friends was shopping in a grocery store wearing a mask, and realized that somebody was following him around and would cough at him deliberately,” she said.

But Liang, a former actor and television presenter in China – who actively celebrates Canadian democracy in contrast to the lack of political rights and freedoms in her native country – said she is glad that such behaviour is far from typical for this area.

“Most local people are very friendly to the Chinese community,” she said. “I don’t expect this reflects most people’s opinions.”

She said that what some do not realize is that Chinese immigrants in Canada do not represent either the Chinese Communist Party or Chinese government policy.

“Canada is a multicultural, very inclusive society,” she said. “That’s why we’ve chosen to come to Canada and not the U.S., because of these basic principles. And what we would like to do is share our resources and talents and contribute to the community.”

Marc Burchell, who is vice-president of the society, points out that local Chinese-Canadians were quick to respond to the crisis, and offer support to frontline workers, through their own community networks.

He said that on March 26 the society helped facilitate a donation from Meya Liu of some 500 medical masks in response to a plea by the Evergreen Baptist Campus of Care seniors facility in White Rock.

“When Evergreen had the first outbreak of coronavirus in White Rock, they contacted Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies, who reached out to us,” Burchell said.

A Peace Arch Hospital Foundation donation platform started on WeChat on March 30 was followed by a letter of appeal by Liang (also a member of the foundation board).

Since that time many individuals and small businesses have donated money, Burchell said, with some making donations of as much as $5,000 or $10,000

“One family has made four gifts and Jim Bindon (director of philanthropy for the foundation) advised us, in all, it totalled $60,000,” he said.

Another donation contributed 2,000 medical masks to health care workers, while a group of volunteers has also been sewing home-made masks, he added.

Among businesses contributing, Menzou Ramen has been sending 70 cups of bubble tea in multiple flavours to health care workers at Peace Arch Hospital each Friday, Burchell said, while Yucca Tree Cafe has also been donating free breakfasts for health care workers, accompanied by hand-drawn greeting cards from children in the Chinese Canadian community.

Burchell said the Chinese Canadian community has also been making significant contributions to the SOURCES Food Bank through the crisis.

“Our society is very active in breaking down barriers between the Chinese community and other Canadian communities,” he said (the society, which formerly held monthly bilingual ‘Cornerstone’ educational forums with local community leaders as keynote speakers, has now transitioned into online events – check for more information).

“There has been a lot of discussion lately about China and its influence over Chinese immigrants in other countries. The Chinese government does not necessarily reflect the Chinese people, although it does try to influence them through the consulates, and there are some arguments that these do the work of the Chinese government clandestinely.

“But the Chinese Canadian people moved here because they share our values and want to try to be good Canadians,” he said.

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About the Author: Alex Browne

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