Chinese Heritage Month

February 1, 2024

Education Newsletter

< Back to Newsletters
This is some text inside of a div block.

Chinese Heritage Month

By Louise Puevas, FSWC Educator

Chinese Heritage Month is an opportunity to recognize the diverse cultures within Chinese Canadian communities while also learning about the treatment they've experienced in Canada. Discriminatory laws and policies have limited Chinese rights and freedom in a land they thought was full of opportunity. In Canada, the Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and other discriminatory laws placed restrictions on Chinese individuals, impacting many aspects of their lives, including how Canadians treated them.

Previously, Chinese residents worked only in spaces determined by the Canadian government, which include farm work, participating in the gold rush, building parts of the Canadian Pacific Railway, running laundromats, and opening makeshift Chinese restaurants. In 1941, Chinese immigrants were invited to fight alongside Canadians in World War II, primarily because they could blend in with locals in the Pacific Asian areas. In all these examples, Chinese immigrants in Canada proved their worth through hard work, bravery, and resilience. In 1947, they were finally able to apply for Canadian citizenship, thanks in part to their contributions during the war.

Chinese Canadian culture has been re-shaped throughout history, particularly through food and popular culture. Chinese immigrants who opened restaurants altered their cultural cuisine to help their business thrive by catering to Western tastes. Chef George Wong created ginger beef in a Chinese Canadian restaurant in Calgary, fusing Western and Eastern culture. In recent popular culture, the film Turning Red, showcased Chinese Canadian culture, the importance of filial piety (exhibiting proper love and respect for one’s parents, elders and ancestors), and the challenges of navigating dual identities. Set in the streets of 2002 Toronto, main character Mei deals with the changes of adolescence while navigating differences of expectations and experiences around Chinese and Canadian culture. We see filial piety through understanding the sacrifices of Mei’s parents, and through the support of her family members visiting from China.

Education is a space where we can start to create more empathetic and compassionate learning environments for students to understand, recognize, and feel proud of their own identities. Acknowledging the historic relationship between Canadian and Chinese communities, as well as the struggles and resilience of Chinese Canadians is essential, especially in the face of rising anti-Asian racism since the COVID-19 pandemic. By learning from past mistakes, we can continue to create a more inclusive and accepting space for everyone in Canada.

Chinese Heritage Month encourages better representation and understanding of Chinese culture is still changing in Canada. At FSWC, we recognize the diverse, intricate nature of Chinese Heritage Month and want to help create a space for all perspectives to be shared, understood, and accepted. Learning the big picture means understanding the struggles and conflicts of showcasing one’s identity, while also recognizing the efforts and resilience of those who make space for each culture to be shared.

Discussion Questions:

1) Other than food and movies, what are other examples of Chinese Canadian culture that exist around you?

2) The article talks about community spaces around us. What community spaces exist in your city/town? What do you know about these spaces? What is the history of these spaces? Are these spaces in danger of being removed?

3) Join chef and author Jackie Kai Ellis as she takes you on a journey through the Chinese Canadian experience through the food they make. House Special features five-twenty minute episodes that explore four themes: “Hardwork,” “Food is Love,” “Hungry for Home,” “New Traditions,” and “Happiness, Wealth, Prosperity.” Watch here: