On November 10, Macleans published an article called “Too Asian?” It has since been heavily edited, and renamed “The Enrollment Controversy”. The original version is available at TooAsian.ca. In the original, authors Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler allege that “many students” are whispering that some Canadian universities are becoming “too Asian.”
Within a few days, the online article had over 500 comments, mostly from individuals who thought that the article was racist, or enforced racist stereotypes about both “Asians” and “whites.”
TooAsian.ca was launched on November 23 as a response. Its motto is “‘Too Asian’ and Damn Proud of It!”
So far, many of the posts on the site are thoughtful, productive, and uncontroversial. They are mostly promoting events, Youtube videos, and individuals expressing their opinion about the Macleans article. However, there’s one section that is deeply troubling. It’s the “About” section, written by the TooAsian.ca staff.
As a first generation Korean-Canadian and graduate of McGill University —one of the universities identified as not “too Asian” by the Macleans article—I found many problems with Findlay and Köhler’s piece. Many of my concerns are expressed by fellow McGill alumna Braden Goyette in her blog at The Nation.
On the other hand, I also do not support the polarizing rhetoric of “whites” versus “Asians” adopted by the TooAsian.ca staff. Their efforts to identify and challenge racist stereotyping against Asians in mainstream media are commendable, but if we really want to have a debate about racism in Canadian media, we need to stop calling white folk ignorant, and stop assuming that all Asians are “damn proud.”
Let’s face it: not all Asians are proud of their ethnicity. In fact, many Asians can be extremely racist toward their own and other ethnic communities.
Ironically, Findlay and Köhler point out that Asian students do not “form any sort of monolithic presence on Canadian campuses,” and even provide examples of segregation between international students from China and domestic students of Chinese origin through anecdotal quotes. For example:
“The mainland China group tends to stick together,” says Anthony Wong, 19, a Waterloo software engineering student. “We can talk to them,” says Jonathan Ing, also 19 and in Waterloo’s software engineering program, “but we don’t mingle.” Complains Waterloo student Simon Wang, a Chinese national who is frustrated by the segregation at Waterloo: “Why bother to come to Canada and pay five times as much to speak Chinese?”
The quotes above reveal some palpable tension on university campuses between students of Chinese origin at Waterloo. Findlay and Köhler then followed these quotes with further evidence of diverse “Asian” (read: Chinese) groups at the University of British Columbia.
However, instead of investigating international Chinese students’ self-segregation and the tension it creates, Findlay and Köhler chose to present the actual presence of “Asian” students (reverting to using a catch-all term that doesn’t distinguish between the domestic students they themselves quoted) as the major issue that university administrators have to address.
So what do I make of this mess?
For one thing, I think that everyone needs to be precise about what they mean when they say “Asian.” On this count, both Macleans and the staff at TooAsian.ca fail.
Instead of rallying all Asians around a false flag of ethnic solidarity, I would prefer to see, read, and hear more voices about what being Asian in Canada actually means. Schema’s series of stories called “But Where are you really from?” is an ongoing attempt to fill this void in public discussion.
If the goal of TooAsian.ca is to tell “ignorant white folk” what it really means to be Asian, then count me out. It is counter-productive to speak at a forum where the moderators implicitly accept the categorization imposed upon them by their oppressors.