Members of Winnipeg’s Asian community are reflecting on decades of resiliency, growth, and cultural preservation this month.
May is Asian Heritage Month and events will be wrapping up at The Forks on May 27 and 28 to celebrate the occasion. On Saturday there will be free performances beneath the canopy by dozens of cultural groups representing India, China, Japan, The Philippines, and many other Asian countries and cultures.
On Sunday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba will host a "Human Rights Tribute to Canada’s 150th Birthday," featuring a panel discussion on Asian-Canadian sense of belonging, the screening of a documentary detailing the experience of Japanese-Manitobans sent to work on sugar beet farms, and close with a talent showcase.
Alan Wong, secretary of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba and chair of the planning committee, said the Asian Canadian Festival at The Forks helps promote talent in the city that may be underrepresented.
"That last weekend is the highlight of the month because it showcases the brightest and best talent we have," Wong said.
"The goal… is to put the art out there, and have people enjoy it, and engage people, and show them that this isn’t just for Asian people. Anybody can enjoy this because there are so many commonalities," Wong said.
This year’s celebration also carries special significance, Art Miki, president of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba, said.
The province proclaimed Asian Heritage Month for the first time. It’s also the 15th anniversary of the federal proclamation.
Miki, a River Heights local, said as the Asian population in Manitoba has grown through immigration, so has participation from performance groups maintaining traditional arts.
"I think what we’re trying to do is to provide an opportunity for various performing groups in our community to be able to showcase what they do," he said. "There’s been an increase of interest within our Asian communities to participate."
However, the awareness of Asian Heritage Month is growing more slowly.
"I think a lot of people still don’t know that the month of May is Asian Heritage Month. Most people know that the month of February is Black History Month, but with Asian history it’s taking a little more time. It’s perhaps not as dominant in terms of what we do, compared to say, Black History Month," Miki said.
With an influx of new immigrants arriving in Manitoba, Miki said it’s important to not lose sight of the history of immigration to Canada and the often strained relationship between Canada and Asians.
In the 1880s, Chinese were hired for some of the most dangerous work building the Canadian Pacific Railway; in 1908, the federal government restricted immigration to anyone who did not have direct passage to the country; and during the Second World War, Japanese in Canada were put into internment camps.
"The Chinese Head Tax, or what happened to the Indian community with Komagata Maru, all of those things reflect on our history and the attitudes of that time," Miki said. "I think what’s important is that if someone were to look back then and look to today, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and all those things, that we’ve come a long way.
"We should not only be reflecting back, but looking at what we’ve learned from that," he said.
All events during Asian Heritage Month are free to attend. For more information go to www.asianheritagemanitoba.com