January 28, 2013

Why "Asian Canadian?"

The Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop appreciates the diversity of Asian Canadians but has historically focussed on supporting emerging Canadian writers from Pacific Rim East Asian descent. This is not meant to be exclusionary, but a concerted effort not to overreach and generalize.

"Asia" is an especially problematic term. Western scholars for centuries erroneously labeled anything they don't understand as "oriental" and later Asian.  Even the term Asian Canadian can be fraught with implications and power structures.

"South Asian Canadians" is an extremely broad and general term referring to a geographical origin of Canadians who were either born in or can trace their ancestry to South Asia, which includes nations such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. "South Asian" is one of the most diverse ethnocultural populations in Canada.
  • Immigrants from South Asian communities established during British colonial times also include those from East and South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius. Others come from Britain, the US and Europe.
  • In Canadian English usage, the term 'Asian' often refers to people descended from East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Over the years, the ACWW has worked with writers who identify themselves in this ethno-cultural community to understand and encourage the growth of new writers but has refrained from representing “Asia.”

 ACWW works with other community organizations such as the explorASIAN Festival with a broader geographical focus in promoting programs that celebrate the diversity of Asian cultures in Canada.  In explorASIAN's case, they define "Asian" not only to include all of South Asia but the Arabia Peninsula which includes Iran, Iraq, Jordon, Syria, Palestine, etc. It is their interpretation of "Asia" and for their unique mandate, a proper one.

There is currently excellent work done on behalf of “South Asian” groups in Canada, particularly the Mawenzi House (formerly TSAR Books) who works with writers of different South Asian backgrounds in having their work published. There are other smaller presses and publications, both in their native languages and in English.

ACWW appreciates the diversity of Canadian literature, but as a nimble non-profit organization in Vancouver, BC, it has been careful to set expectations that it can accomplish and meet.

Certainly, we appreciate the ongoing dialogue and discussion that pertains to "Asian Canadian," and there is in fact a new academic program at the University of British Columbia called "Asian Canadian & Asian Migration Studies" and in the University of Toronto that attempt to examine and understand the culturally complex history of Canada.  We invite you to join us on this journey together.