I never met my paternal great-grandfather before he died. I know a lot about his legacy, though, and I have visited his gravesite in Ottawa, Ont.
My great-grandfather’s name was George Fong, and he was from Peking, China. My family on my father’s side is Chinese, which surprises people because my last name is Quinn.
I grew up knowing very little about this side of my family. I have a photograph of great-grandpa Fong, and a few others of his siblings. Some of the family used to own a Chinese restaurant in Ottawa’s Chinatown, and I ate there as a child.
My appreciation for celebrations such as the Lunar New Year or the disappearing culture in Ottawa has only come in my adult years—we did not celebrate when I was younger. My paternal family heritage has always been a mix of Asian and non-Asian life: my great-grandmother was Scottish. My grandfather and his five brothers all served with the Canadian military in some form or another.
I have not fallen down the rabbit hole of geneology to find out more about this side of my family tree. I have an uncle and several cousins who love to delve into our ancestry, and I have learned a lot from them. Some family members have travelled to China to learn more about our country of origin; it’s not a trip I have made, although someday I would like to.
I have thought about this part of my life, my family, of me, a lot in the past year, watching the rate of anti-Asian racism rise alarmingly around the world.
I know I am coming at this from a place of privilege. I don’t look like my ancestors, and people usually assume I am Irish because of my last name.
But I own my heritage. And that means I must speak up when things get tough.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by 700 percent in Vancouver in the past year. This number is mind-boggling. This is not OK.
Eight people, including six Asian women, were killed at a series of spas in Georgia. This is a hate crime, and it is not OK.
Hundreds of people gathered in anti-Asian racism rallies across Canada on the weekend, including at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and all their voices rose to say the same thing: this is not OK.
Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, released a statement this week on anti-Asian racism in response to the rallies. Her words resonate with me.
“From the head tax to numerous attacks against people of Asian descent during the COVID-19 pandemic, racism in Canada is just as pervasive, systemic and violent. To think otherwise is, at best, navieté, and, at worst, complicity.
“ We must speak out against racism when we see it, as uncomfortable as it is.”
So I am speaking out.
I will always be proud of my Asian heritage, and I will always speak out against racism. We need to do better.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.