As Asian heritage month comes to a close, it has made me reflect on my own family’s legacy of racial discrimination and ultimately integration in Canada. At the start of the Second World War, my Japanese Canadian grandparents, who were living in Vancouver at the time, were seen as a threat to national security. My grandparents and my father (along with his six siblings) were forcibly removed from their home and sent to internment camps for the duration of the war. My father is the middle child of seven children and he was five years old at the time they were evacuated—so you can picture what that might have been like. They were first sent to buildings meant for livestock to live in cattle stalls and then moved to tar paper shacks in the interior of British Columbia (imagine what winter would have been like). Towards the end of the war, Japanese Canadians were sent to other camps and farms in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario as a means of cheap labour, and as a way to avoid reprisals that could arise if Japanese communities were allowed to exist. My family was eventually sent to a camp in Ontario and ended up settling close by after the war ended.
That experience led to indelible scars for Japanese Canadians. As a result of government initiatives to prevent Japanese people from living in concentrated communities and the fear of triggering further repression by the government, many Japanese Canadians sought to blend into the dominant society. However, it did lead to this interesting fusion of Japanese and “western” cultures producing unique language, food, and people, like me.
I think the lessons for Canadians are clear – how racism and discrimination can lead to violation of human rights, and how our commitment to an equitable, diverse and inclusive society can be challenged. And while, I feel as Canadians we have made great strides forward from that time, we can still see great inequities for many racialized groups. There is much work left to do.
At Collective Results we take a committed but humble approach to equity, diversity and inclusion. I am grateful to work for an organization that is committed to strive towards equity at all levels—our corporate culture, our practices and with the clients and communities we serve while also recognizing that we need to engage in ongoing learning to achieve this goal.
What actions are you or your organization taking to learn from the past and make a more just and equitable society for everyone?