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A tiger stalks through a field.
This year, Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 1 and welcomes in the year of the water tiger. (Shutterstock)

Year of the Tiger: An opportunity for bold changes in combatting anti-Asian racism

Anti-Asian racism is a public health emergency. Since the pandemic began, Asian people have been experiencing record amounts of denigration, hatred and racism.

Feb. 1, 2022, marks the Lunar New Year, welcoming the year of the Water Tiger. Like the tiger, we are fierce, tenacious and courageous in our continued fight against anti-Asian hate and racism — one of COVID-19’s shadow pandemics.

As an Asian woman, I’ve thought more about my Asian ancestry, identity and childhood experiences of racism this past year than I ever have before. Exposure to stories of Asians being beaten to death, pushed in front of trains and continuously targeted knowing these only represent 10 per cent of actual accounts, takes a heavy toll.

Racist and insensitive comments like being told we are “too Asian” or that the pandemic is “because of you Chinese people,” only adds to this heavy toll, increasing vicarious trauma and the experience of race-based traumatic stress.

Almost a year ago, after the Atlanta attacks, our news feeds were flooded with stories addressing anti-Asian racism. There were protests and cries of support from community members and allies. Those protests and cries haven’t stopped, nor have our our communities’ suffering, but media has seemingly stopped caring.

We need to take this opportunity, as we ring in the Lunar New Year to boost Asian pride, remind ourselves of our strength, increase access to culturally relevant mental health services and demand bold changes.

Prevalence of anti-Asian racism

Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reveals that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 73 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. And an Angus Reid poll shows 71 per cent of Asian Canadians surveyed felt that anti-Asian racism worsened in 2021.

Canada, in fact, has the more incidents of anti-Asian racism per capita than the United States — more than double the number of those reported in the U.S.

Vancouver has the greatest number of anti-Asian attacks in North America. And according to the World Health Organization, Canadian women of East Asian descent were responsible for 72 per cent of filed reports.

Seventy-two per cent of Asian Americans who reported a hate crime said discrimination was more stressful than the pandemic. A sense of interpersonal shame and stigma can also adversely affect health.

A woman and a child play on a tiger decoration they are both crouched, pretending to claw and growl at each other.
A woman and a child play on a tiger decoration, a Chinese zodiac which marks the year 2022, at a shopping mall in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

We need bold action to incite longstanding and fundamental changes so the next generation will thrive, not just survive. We must demand investment in our Asian communities — the current narrative needs to be interrupted through radical action.

I am an Asian psychologist and professor who researches the impact of anti-Asian racism on the mental health of Asian Canadians. I direct an Asian mental health research team at my university and developed a model for interrupting discrimination in education. I founded the Asian Gold Ribbon campaign that promotes visible solidarity against anti-Asian racism and contributes to a 21st-century Asian movement. With two young daughters, I was compelled to pave a way for new generations of Asian people to feel pride in who they are.

Disproportionately served

Asian people are disproportionately served when it comes to mental health supports. They are also the least likely to seek psychological help and symptoms tend to be more pronounced when help is finally sought.

Research from the United States suggests there is an alarming shortage of language-specific, culturally appropriate and sexuality-affirming mental health services for Asian people. And culturally practised survival strategies tend to be insensitively misdiagnosed and pathologized. The landscape in Canada is similar.

The Asian Gold Ribbon campaign’s Lunar New Year educational video.

But there are supports that exist. SUCCESS Chinese Helpline, ensures Mandarin and Cantonese speaking therapists are available in British Columbia. The Hong Fook Mental Health Association in Ontario and Project Locus are tackling the model minority stereotype. The Asian Mental Health Collective is one of the most integrated organizations serving Asian people across the U.S. — it also publishes a directory for Asian Canadian therapists.

There’s a profound need for a systemic-cultural shift that makes way for accessible and affordable Asian mental health services across Canada. Government leaders must support community-based organizations, outreach services and develop clear and transparent policies. A task force for Asian Canadian mental health training and strategic allocation will ensure systems are built to provide viable resources to effectively support Asian communities.

Tigers are natural born leaders, loyal and tenacious — so is the Asian community. Like tigers, we are brave and never back down. This Lunar New Year, let’s celebrate our Asian culture, our strength and be confident that actionable changes are coming.

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