by Elena Kusaka, on behalf of the Asian Canadian Wiki Committee
In May 2012 two Canadian universities launched programs in Asian Canadian studies. From the Musqueam territory on the Westcoast, the University of British Columbia announced theirs in the midst of the hard-won Japanese Canadian UBC students of 1941 tribute ceremony. The ceremony was a bittersweet moment in Asian Canadian history. A university was making amends for wartime racism, and affirming a commitment to the potential of educators to illuminate rather than discriminate. In Ontario, the University of Toronto’s Chancellor Emerita, Vivenne Poy announced the minor in Asian Canadian studies at an Asian Heritage Month national videoconference. It was a fitting event for such a message.
In October 2012, another project was launched. The Asian Canadian Wiki project aims to create an online community around this oft-used term “Asian Canadian.” This Wiki, by definition, is both a database and a forum. All information is collaborative, easily edited and open to discussion by internet users. It is meant to build relationships and support Asian Canadian artists and organizations, all on a platform that prioritizes the democratic potential of the wiki format.
The idea for the Asian Canadian Wiki.org was first expressed at a 2010 Asian Heritage Month symposium, by volunteers and Festival Accès Asie Artistic Director, Janet Lumb. Funded by the Canada Council of the Arts, the wiki began in 2010 and was developed further over the summer of 2012. Users conducted research, added information, made links with people and eventually reached over 600 profiles. The hope is that people will visit the wiki, find out someone is missing, and add their profile.
“Asian” is a term with fraught meaning. It may conjure images of the food and spices of the “Far East.” Perhaps it suggests a look of a people, a certain slant of eye or colour of skin. It could encourage the thought of an unbearable cultural weight on Canadian society, an assumption of an inability to assimilate, combined with an interest in the colourful performances of a culture from a far away land.
The wiki invites further investigation into these images and ideas. It is not, and will never be, a destination for those looking to “tour Asia.” Though there is certainly a celebration of culture, many profiles will prove that there is no such crystallization. These are fascinating stories on community leaders such as Baljit Sethi in Prince George, B.C., politicians such as Manitoba’s Lillian Dyck and social justice artivists such as Nathalie Lemoine. Documentary filmmakers such as Tibetan-born Shenpenn Khymsar are able to weave personal narratives from the diaspora with ongoing struggles for political participation. Actors such as Metachroma’s Julie Tamiko Manning create troupes which encourage diversity in theatre, while Calgary-based Persian composer and musician Amir Amiri prepare music for film and performance.
The Asian Canadian Wiki, while serving as a digital resource, is also a direct challenge. It challenges the images of “that region” and “those people.” The wiki is proof of the existence of both a celebration of difference, and the reality of cultural and political change. In the coming years, it will increasingly document the struggles of “Asians” to stake their claim in the threatened democracy that is Canada. And that is possibly the strongest message “we” can continue to make.
This article expresses the viewpoints of the writer alone, and does not cite the political
perspectives of any of the people mentioned above, unless stated in their published
Further Reading & Resources
Lecture by Dr. Henry Yu: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SW7I7uzGuc
Asian Canadian Studies network: http://asiancanadianstudies.ca/
Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University
Press, 1996. Print.
Mawani, Renisa. Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encounters and Juridical Truths in British
Columbia, 1871-1921. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009. Print.
Razack, Sherene. Race, Space, and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society. Toronto:
Between the Lines, 2002. Print.
Trinh, T M.-H. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1989. Print.