In the midst of increasing global uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we must not forget about the experiences of the members in our own communities. Canada has always promoted diversity and multiculturalism. People with heritage and lineage from all across the globe proudly call this nation their home.
Unfortunately, not all Canadians are treated equally. I was heartbroken when my own granddaughter asked me, “Do I belong here?”, and “Am I Canadian?”. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but my daughter has also been in similar situations, causing her to question her own identity. A man asked her where she was from and when she rightly answered “Canada”, he proceeded to press her, “No, where are you really from?”. Sadly, these acts of casual racism have become all too common in this country.
The impact on those who are forced to endure this exclusionary racism is immense. These questions create a sense of confusion felt by those to whom they are posed. If my daughter and granddaughter, who were born in this country are not considered Canadian, then what are they? The fact is, both my granddaughter and daughter are Canadian. I am Canadian. We all feel proud to call Canada our home and for my granddaughter and daughter, it is the only home they have ever known.
As a mother and grandmother, I recognize that the thoughts behind these words are rooted in ignorance and hatred. As a Senator of South Asian descent, these incidences are a reminder of why I do the work that I do. These racist behaviours not only undermine the sense of safety and security to which all Canadians are entitled, they are also in stark contrast to this country’s values and our international reputation which is premised on acceptance and inclusivity. I believe we can do better. We must do better.
I find myself wondering, “when will this end?”. Will my granddaughters’ children be accepted? Or, will they too have their identity singularly determined by what people perceive them to be?
It is my hope that through sharing these painful stories, I will raise awareness of this urgent issue, thus leading to desperately needed action on behalf of all levels of our government. I openly call on my fellow colleagues to do the same. As Senators, we have a responsibility to represent the interests of those who are most marginalized in our society.
Only through the collective action of condemning racism and normalized racist behaviours can we truly ensure that these harms do not continue to haunt the lives of Canadian citizens now and those of the coming generations, such as my granddaughter.
During every month, but most especially during Asian heritage month, all Canadians must stand together against racism and ensure that their fellow Canadians, regardless of their cultural or ethnic backgrounds, feel welcome and included in all that our wonderful country has to offer them.