Topline: It’s (always) an honour just to be Asian

The recent rise in anti-Asian racism has made acknowledging and celebrating Asian Heritage Month all the more urgent

Hello, friends! Michelle da Silva here, Xtra’s audience engagement editor, in the newsletter hotseat this week. You might remember me from the not-too-distant past as that woman who bought a Peloton bike, as the voice behind Xtra’s video interview with filmmaker Emma Seligman or one-third of your favourite queer one-hit wonder internet band

Maybe you don’t know who the heck I am at all, and that’s okay, too! Feel free to get acquainted with me on Twitter and Instagram (or my cat’s Instagram, if you’re feline inclined 😹). In the meantime, buckle up for this week’s hottest newsletter. And remember, “Topline” is just a teaser—don’t forget to subscribe to Xtra Weekly to get the full newsletter in all of its glory.

What’s the buzz 🐝?

Over the course of the pandemic, the days, weeks and even months have been blurring together. It doesn’t matter if it’s Saturday night or Tuesday, my plans at home remain the same. A few weeks ago, I slipped on my jean jacket for the first time since last fall and found a crumpled blue face mask in the pocket. I’ve started wondering: If there’s no one around to celebrate my birthday (again), do I really age? 

Between the periodic announcements of when restrictions will ease—or, if you live in the hellscape that is the province of Onterrible, when restrictions will tighten again—and yet another season of Drag Race starting, Bennifer have rekindled their romance, Target has launched a Pride collection and Asian Heritage Month has come and almost gone.

Unless you’ve been living under a jade stone, you hopefully already know that May is Asian Heritage Month (or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the U.S.), and have been supporting local Asian-owned businesses and telling all your Asian friends how much you appreciate their presence. 

Admittedly, I haven’t always felt so strongly about a nationally-recognized month dedicated to celebrating my culture and acknowledging the contributions and achievements of Asian immigrants in North America. But with the sharp rise in anti-Asian violence related to the racialization of the novel coronavirus and President 45’s obsession with referring to said virus as the “China virus” and “kung flu,” the need to celebrate, recognize and continue fighting anti-Asian discrimination feels more urgent than ever.

 

What were we thinking 🥟?

I remember the first time I ever heard the word c**nk. I didn’t even know what it meant, but I knew that it was bad because it was followed by, “Go back to where you came from.” It dawned on me at six years old that, perhaps, my family wasn’t from here—at that very moment, “here” was in line for a pony ride at a street festival in a predominantly and historically white Vancouver neighbourhood. 

For years after, I started feeling deep shame for my culture. I begged my parents to pack me peanut butter sandwiches rather than Chinese noodle soup for school lunches, and refused to answer in Cantonese when my mom spoke to me in public. I also loathed weekend grocery trips to Chinatown, believing that the stereotypes of Chinatown as a noisy, stinky and dirty place were true and, worst of all, a reflection of me. 

As I got older, I realized that parts of me were fetishized by the very same people who would point and laugh. I learned about the “model minority myth,” and in doing so, started finding my voice and speaking out. With anti-Asian violence on the rise since the start of the pandemic, I’ve felt a mix of anger, sadness and fear that something could happen to me or someone I loved simply because of the way we look. 

With that in mind, I’ve further leaned into my online Asian communities, especially my queer Asian communities, over this past month. It’s amazing how much comfort and sense of belonging strangers on the internet can provide sometimes. I’ve read stories of resilience and listened to conversations on how Asian Canadians and Asian Americans can be better allies to other BIPOC groups. I’ve celebrated through food and felt a sense of pride through art. Most of all, I’ve tried to indulge and surround myself with joy—as Canadians are waiting patiently to be fully vaccinated—during these trying times. 

As we enter the final weekend of Asian Heritage Month, I’d like to present a few related stories and links displaying Asian excellence that have made me happy and proud.

The Linda Lindas

Even before The Linda Lindas set social media ablaze last week with a viral video of their song “Racist, Sexist Boy,” these teens were already cooler than I’ll ever be. They’ve performed with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and have opened for Bikini Kill. The band, whose members are Asian American and Latinx, wrote “Racist, Sexist Boy” in response to a classmate’s xenophobia towards Chinese people during the pandemic. Their video, which was filmed at a Los Angeles public library as part of their AAPI Heritage Month program, grabbed the attention of millions, and just earned them a record deal with punk label Epitaph.

Olivia Rodrigo

Am I slowly regressing into teenhood? Perhaps, but I’m not the only one. I’ve listened to Rodrigo’s new album, Sour, about a dozen times since its release last week, and I’ve started wearing chokers and crop tops and slamming my bedroom door more these days. The California-based 18-year-old, who is Filipino-American, might have one of this summer’s hottest albums. Two songs, “Drivers License” and “Good 4 U” have already topped the Billboard charts.

Bowen Yang

Between the transphobic jokes and odd choices for its hosts, I haven’t found many reasons to watch Saturday Night Live lately. But Bowen Yang, the first Chinese-American and third openly-gay man to be cast on the show, keeps me coming back (or at least googling the sketches he’s featured in). From his performance as the Titanic iceberg to his rousing “fuel up” speech directed at Asian Americans, he is undoubtedly the show’s bright spot and is changing the face of sketch comedy.

Pearl Low

Is anyone else immediately soothed by roller-skating videos on social media? Lately, I’ve been following Pearl Low, a queer, mixed race (Chinese Jamaican), Oscar-winning story artist, muralist and illustrator based in Vancouver. Along with being outspoken and vulnerable about their identity online, they’ve been learning to roller skate this spring and have been posting short videos set to music on their TikTok, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

In other Xtra news 🌎

👉What is “microactivism,” and how can it be used? A non-binary writer recounts the challenges they faced within the mental health care system, and how “microactivism” helped them overcome them.

👉Demi Lovato’s public coming out has spurred a conversation about the spectrum of non-binary identities—and TikTok is a great place to see it in action.

👉Millions of dollars have been set aside for the Liberal’s LGBTQ2 Secretariat, but many activists say it’s too little for the vital work they do in the community. Dale Smith spoke with the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger about it.

👉Reactions to Elliot Page’s latest social media photo show we have a long way to go when it comes to talking about trans masculine bodies

👉Is it possible that, for some people, sexuality and gender identity don’t stem from having been “born that way”? Xtra contributor Heron Greenesmith delves into the possibility of choosing and changing our identities.

👉Want more headlines? Subscribe to Xtra Weekly.

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Every month is Asian Heritage Month!

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Michelle da Silva oversees Xtra’s social media and comment section. Previously, she was the life and social media editor at NOW Magazine and a staff writer at the Georgia Straight. Her work has also appeared in enRouteBustleNUVOHouse & Home and more. She hosts and produces the biweekly radio show “Early Bird Special” on ISO Radio and sits on the jury of the Polaris Music Prize.

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