Whether in the aftermath of 9/11, or a global pandemic, Asian communities have continued to face countless acts of hate and violence. As a Canadian election rolls through, little discussion was invested in the discriminatory nature of Bill 21 and the rise of racism in Canada. Stereotypical imagery in children’s books have shared harm with the youngest minds for decades, perpetuating ideas of dehumanizing our experiences, and yet remain protected on coveted shelves.
Heritage months celebrate food, festivals and folktales but often fail to recognize the broader issues in the hearts of Asian communities. It always seems to take lives lost for people to pause and recognize the humanity of those impacted by hate crimes and violence.
During a recent trip to Ottawa, what stood out to our family were the stares from people on the streets. It was obvious, intentional and unapologetic.
The amazing group of women behind Project 1907 – all volunteer community organizers – aim to shift the conversation and elevate Asian voices and experiences. Please join me in welcoming the team to our Pod.
NAVJOT: The discomfort of racism which has always existed in Canada continues to unravel, and is being highlighted by groups such as yours. Why and when did you begin Project 1907?
PROJECT 1907 team: Project 1907 is a grassroots project that was started by Asian women over the kitchen table, in early 2020. Although we had been strategizing about anti-Asian racism for years, the pandemic forced us to mobilize.
As Asian women working in essential services, we noticed a significant increase in the number of violent racist attacks we were personally experiencing on the front line. We knew this was happening to other people in our communities, and we knew this was something we needed to monitor. We put up a simple reporting form online, reports started pouring in and Project 1907 was formed.
Because our stories are so often flattened, suppressed and erased, we’ve seen that there is a real hunger for a space where people can share their experiences, in their own words, on their own terms. We created this project to amplify underrepresented voices and take back some power over our own narratives.
NAVJOT: Who are the humans behind Project 1907?
PROJECT 1907 team: We are a collective of Asian-identifying women and community organizers. We know that Asian women are disproportionately impacted by anti-Asian racism, so we would prefer not to share our personal details and photos at this time. Folks within the community interested in getting to know us are welcome to reach out!
NAVJOT: Data gathered so far indicates a high percentage of anti-Asian racism taking place in the province of BC – 87% of reported incidents – do you think this data is new or do you believe it has always existed?
PROJECT 1907 team: Nobody should be surprised by the data. Our history shows it all – the roots of anti-Asian racism in this country are in British Columbia.
We need to remember that both the City of Vancouver and Government of British Columbia played leading roles in passing discriminatory policies targeting Asian people, including repeatedly lobbying the federal government to increase the Chinese Head Tax and enact the Chinese Exclusion Act.
BC is home to the racist leper colony on D’Arcy Island. The Anti-Asian Riots took place in Vancouver. Komagata Maru was turned away on our shores. We had segregated schools here. The list goes on. Anti-Asian racism is not new, it’s just been ignored.
NAVJOT: Has your work revealed a correlation between these hate incidences and the impact on local Chinatown businesses and residents?
PROJECT 1907 team: We have not specifically looked at the correlation between reported incidents and impact on local Chinatown businesses and residents. However, anecdotally, and through informal reports we hear about through our community relationships, we know that the incidents in Chinatown have also escalated.
It’s important to note that individual racist incidents are just a symptom of systemic racism. It’s so important that we look at the correlation between hate incidences and institutional racism – we can’t disconnect what’s happening now with what has happened throughout history. “Yellow peril” and the historic portrayal of Chinese people as a threat to public health is connected to today’s “China virus” rhetoric. American imperialism and military sex work in Asia links directly to racialized misogyny and violence against Asian women. Because of the history and visibility of Chinatowns and their residents, they are today often targeted as sites of racism.
NAVJOT: How has your partnership with the #Elimin8Hate campaign garnered collective action?
PROJECT 1907 team: Because our work is grassroots and led by volunteers, partnering with other Asian-led organizations – including the Vancouver Asian Film Festival on its Elimin8hate campaign – has been so important in sharing emotional labour and broadening reach through our collective networks. We have also partnered with organizations out east including the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice and the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter which has allowed us to build a national voice.
NAVJOT: Thank you for sharing your work with our Pod. What can we do to further amplify Project 1907?
PROJECT 1907 team: We recently partnered with GoFundMe on raising money for a community fund to support other grassroots organizations in Canada working to address anti-Asian racism. These include: Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network, Viet Collective for Community Justice, Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, Anakbayan Canada, and Arirang Age Friendly Community Centre. It’s so affirming to join other Asian women in building collective action.
To learn more about Project 1907 and offer support, please do visit their site and use your voice to amplify the necessary work.