May is Asian Heritage Month

The month of May marks the annual observance of Asian Heritage Month. In Canada, Asian Heritage month has been observed since 2001, when then-Senator Vivienne Poy brought the motion forward. At the time, Dr. Poy was the first person of Asian heritage to sit in the upper house of Canadian parliament, after having been appointed by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 1998.


Asian Heritage Month is a time to reflect on the diverse contributions, achievements and histories of people of Asian descent to our collective society. Within the Canadian labour movement, Asian People have played important roles as leaders and contribute to foundational organizing. Organizations such as the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, the Migrant Rights Network and Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network all work to advocate for the rights and civil liberties of Asian workers, especially those in precarious or dangerous working conditions.

As a South Asian woman and mother to a second-generation labour activist, I know how difficult it can be to be a minority within a minority. We don’t always see ourselves in leadership of our union, or even in the standard delegation of larger conferences and conventions, and this is an experience I know we share with all racialized people and some members of other equity- seeking groups. Those with intersecting identities can face additional barriers to labour activism and increased systemic discrimination. That’s why it’s important that we stand in solidarity with one another, make tangible efforts to put a stop to Anti-Asian racism and be engaged in this work all year round.

I’d also like to take a moment to address solidarity amongst racialized people: it is important that in our pursuit of equity, that we support movements led by our ally communities. In particular, I consider it part of my role to lend my support to the advocacy efforts of Black People and Indigenous People, and I recognize that there are members within my own community of mixed heritage who should never be asked to prioritize one identity over another. We cannot move forward and leave others behind, no matter how tempting the reward dangled in front of us by those in positions of power may be. There have been times when my identity has given me privilege over someone else, and though that may not be my doing, it is still my responsibility to use whatever privilege I have to support those who lack that privilege.

Many of us have the experience of our parents, with good intentions, telling us “not to rock the boat” – but I’m here to tell you, as union activists, it is your responsibility to rock the boat and disrupt oppressive systems of power. We’re on this boat together, we deserve a say in its course.

Wishing you all a reflective, peaceful and educational Asian Heritage Month.


- Bernadette D'Souza, Human Rights Race Relations Representative