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Some of the Canada's newest citizens who work on the front lines of the health care system are asking people to remember the immigrants who cared for them during the pandemic.
In a video that's been seen more than 35,000 times, Winnipeg nurse Jerome Espital is one of nearly a dozen new Canadians working in health care who asks people to consider the next time they hear a racist joke or vote, not to forget the newcomers who helped them.
"Will you remember that I was the one caring for your grandmother?" Espital asks in the video, which was produced by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. It's part of a campaign to raise awareness of immigrants’ front-line contributions during the COVID-19 crisis.
The national campaign is in response to an increase in racist incidents, many directed against Asian Canadians. In one incident, a grocery store shopper in Markham, Ont., yelled at an Asian Canadian to "get away"; in another, Ontario Conservative MP Derek Sloan tweeted that chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam "must go."
Espital, who immigrated from the Philippines and became a Canadian citizen in February, said he's aware of the racism and xenophobia. He welcomed the invitation to join the campaign.
"There's a lot of issues going on and I'd like to share my experiences," said Espital, whose employer prevents him from identifying where he works in any media interviews. He's found Winnipeggers to be welcoming and accepting because they're more familiar with diversity.
"A lot of staff in (my workplace) here in Winnipeg are international and came from different countries," he said. "People in Winnipeg are starting to acknowledge and are knowing they will be taken care of by a person from another country. They are getting used to it."
That hasn't always been the case, said the 34-year-old who worked as a health care aide in northern Manitoba before becoming a nurse. One incident in The Pas with a patient from that time stands out.
"As soon as I entered the room, he told me 'Why did you come to this country? You're taking away our jobs.'" Espital said he didn't respond to the elderly patient, who may have had cognitive issues, but the nurse who was with him did.
To all the immigrants, migrant workers, and new citizens working on the frontlines of the #COVID19 crisis, we thank you and we stand with you.— Institute for Canadian Citizenship (@inclusion_ca) May 19, 2020
Let’s #StandTogether against xenophobia and racism. Share this video and spread the word. https://t.co/JyYblmeeLX | #YouClapForMeNow pic.twitter.com/fNTSmI77Kv
"She said I'm not taking anyone's job: 'He's here to help us because we're short of staff'," the nurse told the patient.
"After that incident in The Pas, I've had no issue," said Espital, who knows that's not the case for all new Canadians, and saw the national campaign and video as an opportunity to speak up.
Immigration Partnership Winnipeg launched its own anti-discrimination campaign earlier this month following increased reports of racist incidents related to COVID-19 toward people of Asian heritage, including verbal harassment on buses, workplace gossip, derogatory social media posts, being shunned in public spaces and refused tenancy by property managers.
A recent survey of 1,877 provincial health care workers by Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba found that one in five respondents who self-identified as Asian had experienced racism at work throughout March and April.
Public opinion polling conducted by Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies early in the pandemic indicated 32 per cent of Manitobans worried about being in contact with people from Asia or Iran.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Saturday, May 30, 2020 at 12:05 PM CDT: Corrects reference to Institute for Canadian Citizenship
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