Visibility and Voice: Reflecting on the Significance of Asian Heritage Month

For Asian Heritage Month, I wanted to speak about what it means to me and why the symbolism of having a month dedicated to the multitude of Asian cultures, peoples and perspectives is still relevant and important.

The genesis of AHM began in 1978 in the U.S. as a way to recognize the contributions of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. In Canada, it was Senator Vivienne Poy who introduced the idea in 2001. In her maiden speech, she said that she felt compelled to introduce AHM because “we were quite invisible in Canada and not part of the Canadian heritage … and to remind others that we are here.”

To remind others that we are here. And she is right – Asians, whether we are West, South, South-East or East Asians, in many ways we are invisible. We work in the kitchens of the best restaurants all over the country, we clean your houses, your hospitals, your neighbourhood trash, and schools. Our ancestors have been toiling and building so many infrastructures of the Americas for over 200 years. And to me, AHM is a way to remember how Asians were taken for granted and denied equality for so long.

As an example, in the 1980s, when I was a young gay man, my experiences of coming out and going to gay bars were not easy. Gay Asian men were the last choice for most gay men. We were never considered attractive, and all the negative stereotypes, including being passive, submissive, and feminine – were applied to me. It gave me a huge complex about myself – to the point where I desperately wanted to pass as White, to blend in and not stand out. That was almost 40 years ago.

But today, I learned that things haven’t really changed. Last month, I attended a queer Asian community event and listened to younger queer Asians speak about their experiences living in Toronto. Many said that they experienced negative stereotyping and marginalizing and felt like they were the bottom of the barrel, the last choice. And many trans Asian youth said they felt invisible. Almost all agreed that they were always the last choice, and only when there was no one else ….

And so I asked myself, what has changed in 40 years? What did all my protesting, marching, and fighting for equality do for the generations after me? Why are these younger folks telling me that they are experiencing what I experienced when I was their age? The sad truth is racism is alive and well. Lurking beneath the surface. And invisibility is alive, almost 25 years after Senator Poy said we were invisible.

How can we change this? How can MCC help to move the discussion and the celebration of AHM to more than a cultural recognition? Well, one way is through song and music. Another way is to reach out, include us, and help us become less invisible.

Our invisibility is partly because we perpetuate the positive stereotypes of being Asian – we are good people, we work hard, don’t rock the boat, and do as we’re told. But this also creates invisibility. The kind of invisibility that doesn’t always include us at the table.

And so, my ask of you is to bring real meaning for AHM, to step out of your comfort zone, reach out to someone unfamiliar and unknown, and to start a conversation, without expectations or assumptions. We Asians have been here all along, part of MCC, and we continue to support the roof of our beloved MCC. So come say hello to my Asian sisters and brothers, who are part of your Board, your choir, your volunteers and your congregation.


-Andre Goh (he/him)

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