2020 was a hard year for people all around the globe. When the world familiarized itself with COVID-19, it came with a significant rise in anti-Asian sentiment. Before we knew it, everyone with black hair and almond eyes was burdened with the blame of a whole pandemic. It was entirely not their fault, but what began in a place of pain, eventually blossomed into a community as a group of Asian youth in Ottawa came together to bring awareness to the racism prevalent in the world, and share with us their culture. They call it, “Dear Asian Youth Ottawa”.
DAYO (@dearasianyouth.ott on Instagram) is a sub-organization, known as a “chapter”, of the Instagram-based, non-profit organization Dear Asian Youth (@dearasianyouth on Instagram) for the city of Ottawa. Dear Asian Youth and their chapters spread awareness on topics concerning Asian youth across the world through instagram slideshows.
The team at DAYO meets 1-2 times per week on Discord to brainstorm ideas, assign work, research, and edit. We decide on posts based on what we think needs more awareness. Some topics we have covered include colourism, the importance of including education about Asian culture in schools, and the apology for the Japanese-Canadian incarceration. Everything from research, writing, editing, and graphics, are done by members of our team.
Aaron Mohanathas, our chapter lead and a grade ten student at Merivale High School, applied to start a chapter for Ottawa in March. A month later, in April of 2021, Dear Asian Youth Ottawa held their first meeting. Though the team was composed of mostly people from Merivale high school, whom Aaron knew from school, we now have people all over Ottawa involved, all of us being in high school, in grades 9-11.
“...I first heard of DAYO [DAY, not DAYO] when the Asian hate crime rates were high and because of all the great awareness they were bringing to their audience, I knew that Ottawa could also use such awareness especially after witnessing kids at school be racist towards all types of Asians and seeing how normalized it was..”
Aaron could be referencing the 600% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in Ottawa during 2020, or the overall increase around the world.
Though discrimination against Asian people have gone up with the pandemic, it has existed ever since Asian people have set foot in North America. The Chinese head tax, and Japanese-Canadian incarceration may not be in effect anymore, but a lot of Asian people still face blatant racism, microaggressions, and the experience of being stereotyped frequently.
Eileen Peng, a writer and editor at DAYO, and a grade ten student at Merivale high school, talked to me about the alienation she felt throughout middle school as the only Chinese student in a class of thirty. Eileen says they definitely felt the effects of the model minority myth; they were stereotyped as a nerd, anti-social, and solely focused on studying. She also talked about the high expectations that the stereotype brought with it; these were expectations that they didn’t connect with.
Similar to Eileen, Nicole Sun spoke to me about the hatred she felt toward different aspects of her culture, and the microaggressions she experienced growing up as well in primarily white school. Nicole is a graphic designer at DAYO, and a grade eleven student at Canterbury High School.
When Eileen reflected on her experiences, she said, “It just didn’t create the best educational, or even like social environment for me, which is why diversity within classrooms, and education about diversity is really important.”
Racism isn’t the only difficulty growing up Asian, for many it’s an internal struggle that affects us. A lot of us have trouble balancing our identity as a Canadian, and our cultural identity.
Emma, a grade ten student and the graphic design lead at DAYO, said, “It was difficult for me, to like, to really understand my identity as being an Asian person, when I was younger, because I grew up in an environment where there wasn’t a lot of Asian people, and the Asian people I did know were also in the same boat as me.”
The negative experiences aren’t universal, though. Shukti Srinivas, a researcher and editor at DAYO, and a first generation immigrant, talks about her experiences in a positive manner. She said she definitely got questions that could be considered rude throughout elementary school, but they came from a good place of curiosity, rather than ignorance. Now she is in grade ten at Merivale High School; the school is a predominantly Asian and POC dominated community, with a lot of first and second generation immigrants, so they share common experiences and understandings with each other.
Each individual’s journey had somehow led them into joining DAYO. Overall, they can all agree that having a community of people who understand you, your heritage, and your experiences is important.
If you’re someone who is looking for that community previously described, go check us out at @dearasianyouth.ott on Instagram. Raising awareness about certain issues and making a change in our community is a priority for some. If, as an Asian-Canadian, your priorities align with ours, you are welcome to apply to join our team. It’s a great way to meet people across the city who have similar experiences, and the same goals as you. You can look for our google form in our instagram bio, where you can apply to be a writer, editor, and/or graphic designer. Any type of discrimination is hurtful, scarring, and painful, but we can make a change. Whether it be on our page, or at meetings, we hope to meet you soon!