The faculty in the Departments of History and Classics at the University of New Brunswick deplore the murder of eight people in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, 2021, seven of whom were women, and six of them Asian: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, and Paul Andrew Michels. The demographic profile of these victims tragically and disturbingly reflects an escalation of both anti-Asian hate crimes and femicide, both of which have risen sharply across North America during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Vancouver, anti-Asian hate crimes rose over 700% in the last year. Violent killings of women in Canada increased from 146 in 2019 to 160 in 2020. We urgently ask that all governments, public institutions, and the media speak out against anti-Asian racism and implement programs to address it. In the Department of History, we will do our part through our courses, extracurricular programs, and our scholarship.
As historians we are particularly concerned in these matters because all paths to justice lead through
nuanced and evidence-based understandings of the past and an awareness of how the legacies of the past impact our present. That includes acknowledging that anti-Asian racism and violence against women, who have been historically racialized in specific ways, have deep and troubling histories in both Canada and the United States and have too often been abetted by their settler states.
Asian migrants first arrived in the Americas in the 16th century on European ships known as Manila
Galleons that established transpacific trade between Asia and the Americas for the Spanish empire. The
17th century saw the establishment of Asian community settlements, including those occupied by
Filipino migrants who fled Manila Galleons and escaped enslaved Africans who fled slave ships in what
Spanish and French settlers named Saint Malo, Louisiana. In the 18th century, a British fur trader
brokered transport for Chinese migrants to Nuu-chah-nulth territory in what became the settler province of British Columbia, and the British sacrificed this Chinese community to defend its empire against Spanish seizure.
During the violent expansion of the Canadian state in the late 19th and early 20th century, public policies via legislation explicitly aimed to make Canada a white settler nation. Canada encouraged labour contractors to recruit Chinese labour to build a white settler nation but imposed Chinese Head Taxes from 1885-1923 to discourage the emigration of women and children and thus the emergence of a permanent Chinese population. In 1923, a new Chinese Immigration Act severely restricted Chinese immigration. To underscore its importance in keeping Canada white, it came into effect on 1 July 1923 and white Canadians celebrated it in Dominion Day festivities that year, while many Chinese Canadians understood July 1 as a “Humiliation Day.” Racist policies against other Asian communities in Canada were similarly harsh. During the Second World War, the Canadian interned Japanese Canadians, and confiscated and sold their homes and businesses.
Racist imaginings of Asians during European colonial expansion (such as Britain’s occupation and
colonization of Hong Kong in the 19th century) continue to this day, and have fetishized Asian women
as childlike and innocent, while simultaneously stereotyped them as sexually available. The “lotus
blossom,” “Geisha girl, “China doll” and other stereotypes types cast Asian women as submissive,
sexually available, and often characterizes them as sex workers. These narratives about Asian women
were subsequently reinforced with the posting of Canadian troops to East Asia during the Second World War and the Korean War. One does not have to look far to see this stereotype permeated in our popular culture from celebrated musicals such as Miss Saigon to critically acclaimed films such as Full Metal Jacket, and even “feminist” films such as Mean Girls. These stereotypes of submissive, virginal yet
sexually available Asian women that were born out of western occupations of Asian countries need to
end. These stereotypes legitimize violence and sexual abuse against Asian women. The white male
murderer on the March 16, 2021, took out his self-identified “frustration” on Asian women spa workers and yet stops short of calling this an anti-Asian attack. When this mass murder is understood in the historical context of Western fetishization of Asian women and the conflating of spa work with sex work within a broader imperial history of Canadian and American war mongering in Asia, this mass murder is exposed as a targeted anti-Asian femicide.
As Canada enters a post-pandemic era of economic readjustment, it is critical that East Asian
economies, particularly China’s, not be stigmatized as exploiting Euro-American economic
vulnerabilities. This is particularly concerning around global credit/debt markets which have been
stretched from Covid-19 spending, and power dynamics between creditor/debtor nations become
redefined. The entire world is implicated in the environmental pressure that contributed to the
emergence of this novel virus, and as we come out of the shared trauma of our pandemic ordeal, it is
vitally important that Canada and Canadians not contribute to racist scapegoating of some cultures,
economies, and countries.
We close by remembering the eight individuals who lost their lives in Georgia, and we offer our
condolences to their families, friends, and communities who are grieving the tragic loss of these
valuable members of society. May the lives they lived and the tragedies of their deaths commit us to
seeing justice done in their memory.
Faculty members in the UNB Department of History and UNB Department of Classics