Quebec is the only home Laura Luu has ever known, but a surge of anti-Asian racism in Montreal linked to the COVID-19 pandemic has raised uncomfortable questions.
“For me, it's very hurtful,” she told MTL Blog. “Yes, I'm Asian but I was born in Quebec. I’m a Quebecer and it feels very hurtful because you’re denying my identity and who I am. I was raised here and I thought I was part of your province and country.”
Before COVID-19, the 37-year-old didn't think anything of being a Quebecer of Vietnamese descent. That has changed.
With the outbreak of the pandemic that has killed around 10,000 people in the province, Asian people and businesses have become targets of xenophobic harassment.
In response to the incidents, Luu and her colleagues formed a new online support group called the Groupe d’Entraide contre le racisme envers les asiatiques au Québec to fight discrimination and promote mental health.
It now has over 5,800 members.
“Asian people, we are raised to be quiet, not to be loud, not to make a fuss about anything,” she said.
“I think this group is about helping people to speak up to say no it's not okay if there [are] some insults. It's not okay if there are places that are vandalized.”
What has the Asian community experienced?
Luu has been bookmarking personal testimonies and news reports of racist incidents including, “insults in the street, insults in the metro, vandalism of temples, and also some homes.”
She pointed to one study that found more than 600 anti-Asian hate incidents in Canada had been reported to elimin8hate.org and covidracism.ca from the onset of the pandemic to September.
At 65% of occurrences, verbal harassment was by far the most common, but nearly 30% of reported events were assaults, which included “targeted coughing, spitting and physical attacks and violence.”
“I saw a lot of things happening on social media,” said Luu. “There was no place for the Montreal Asian community to talk about it. So, I made a place to report all the incidents where we could discuss it.”
What is the goal of the Groupe d’Entraide?
Julie Tran, 24, a Groupe d’Entraide administrator, said many members struggle with the social stigma and shame associated with discrimination, which can prevent them from seeking help.
“We're addressing a lot of taboos about mental health and racism,” she said. “We're trying to communicate with our generation that's okay to feel what you feel and it's okay to talk about it.”
Tran, who is studying anti-Asian racism against women in Quebec as part of her master’s degree, said the Groupe d’Entraide is there to help people cope with discrimination by letting them vent, helping them submit a formal complaint or seek mental health services.
“We want people to share,” she said. “Because living through this kind of trauma can have an impact. It's something new for our community to understand.”
What else is the group doing?
Sarah Lê Coté, 30, who grew up in a mixed-race household said she’s heard about anti-Asian attacks in the past, but “that's definitely something that intensified with the pandemic.”
She said her mother, a registered nurse who works in one of the city’s busiest hospitals, was verbally assaulted in what Lê Coté believes was a racially-motivated attack.
“She's working in a hospital, she's helping people,” said Lê Coté. “And I hear racist comments or inappropriate comments about her and about her nationality.”
These incidents motivated and inspired her to join the Groupe d’Entraide as an administrator in the hopes that “something good comes out of this pandemic for the Asian community.”
Lê Coté handles legal matters for the group and said they’ve partnered with the Montreal’s Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) and different municipal police forces and legal organizations to spread their message.
They’re also aiming to fight racism through the power of food with other groups called Local 88 and Quebec AsianTown — helpful directories of Asian-owned restaurants and grocery stores in the province.
“We really just want to help,” she said. “And that’s what keeps me going.”