Alvin Tedjo’s son came home from school one recent afternoon upset, and frustrated by what he had experienced on the playground. Some of his classmates had taunted him, saying he had coronavirus.
Tedjo’s son is of mixed race. He is half Chinese. Even some of the youngest members of Toronto’s Chinese Canadian community are feeling the effects of racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just about lost my mind,” Tedjo, a former Ontario Liberal Party leadership candidate, said in an interview.
Tejdo and his son are not alone. COVID-19 has caused anti-Chinese racism to flare back up in Canada and other Western nations, alienating many members of the Chinese community, because the global pandemic’s origins in Wuhan, China.
‘We’re born here. And we’re not a risk’
Here, in Toronto, which is home to one of the largest Chinese communities outside of China, Chinese Canadian residents and their loved ones say they are facing discrimination. From schoolyard taunts to avoiding Chinese-owned businesses, racism has taken many forms, prompting public officials to issue statements about how to handle it, and urging people to be aware.
Toronto residents Shelley Kreider Li has seen her husband have been affected by it personally.
“In terms of the virus, up to this point, it’s been handled quite well, and they’ve been keeping the rates low by being very cautious in terms of travel, and monitoring people who’ve been abroad,” Li, a family practice nurse at the Women’s College Hospital in downtown Toronto, whose husband is of Chinese heritage, said in an interview.
“I think they’re handling it quite well, right now. But the problem is the racism that has occurred.”
It’s not fair to assume every person who looks Chinese has travelled to China and might have brought the virus to Canada, Li said.
“Obviously, we’re here. We’re born here. And we’re not a risk,” she said. “It’s just racist, and it’s not acceptable. People should really just mind their own business, and do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus.”
‘Diversity is our strength’
Tedjo says the xenophobia is unacceptable, but that certain races will, unfortunately, be targeted.
“It drives me nuts … you don’t want to stand still for that type of racism or arrogance,” he said. “Diversity is our strength.”
Read more from the Toronto Observer:
- Coronavirus death toll climbs, government assures readiness
- How 2020 will be a year Ontario’s students remember (and perhaps not in a good way)
- Toronto restaurants struggle to stay afloat during coronavirus pandemic
Tedjo also mentioned before all the orders for self-isolation and closure of non-essential businesses came into effect in Toronto, he himself witnessed himself empty Chinese restaurants.
“I took my mom out for Chinese food after she encouraged me to take her out because nobody was going to the restaurants,” he said.
Tedjo thought she was overreacting. But when he arrived at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, there were diners at only one other table.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer and head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, addressed racism surrounding coronavirus in a series of tweets on Jan. 30.
Tam, who is originally from Hong Kong, encouraged people to remember what was learned from the SARS crisis, when South East Asians experienced similar forms of racism.
In spite of what his family has endured, Tejdo says there is still reason for optimism. He offered some hopeful parting words.
“People know this is wrong and I believe Ontarians will stand up for what is right and fight back against COVID-19 racism,” he said.