Chinese gallery hosts community event to combat COVID-19 racism
Published Friday, February 21, 2020 6:11PM PST Last Updated Sunday, February 23, 2020 7:05PM PST
VANCOUVER -- From troubling graffiti to startling face-to-face confrontations, the number of racist incidents linked to fear of the COVID-19 virus is continuing to grow in Metro Vancouver and beyond.
Lin Li, who moved to Canada from China three years ago, recently experienced it firsthand. She was walking to the Marine Gateway Canada Line Station when a woman shouted the word "coronavirus" at her.
"She didn't hear me speak a single word," Li said. "She just saw an Asian face and was thinking about the coronavirus."
The 26-year-old marketing co-ordinator works for the Sunzen Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver. She helped organize an event on Sunday, designed to dispel myths about COVID-19 and combat xenophobia related to the virus.
The gallery hosted a tea ceremony and tasting, where staff encouraged people of all backgrounds to sit down and talk with each other.
"Chinese tea is just a perfect medium to make people sit down and have communication,” said Li.
Gallery staff served snacks and aged pu'er tea from China's Yunan province, which is known as the "birthplace of tea."
"It's very welcoming," said Li. "It's a relaxing couple of hours for people to sit down and have conversations."
She pointed to a number of concerning incidents that have made the news recently, including the discovery of a Vancouver bus stop vandalized with the words "CHINA VIRUS."
"Racializing the disease has no place in our community nor in our country,” said Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S, a group that advocates for Chinese Immigrants.
The spread of misinformation has caused a 70 per cent drop in sales at some Asian businesses.
"I think people need to choose their words very carefully and be sensitive to the people around you,” said Choo.
“It's been painful to watch,” Li said. Though she's only lived in the country a few years, since first moving to Toronto to earn her master's in art history, she said she feels a strong connection to Canada.
"I feel that although I wasn't born here, I'm also a part of this country," she said. "How about people who have lived in Vancouver for 30 years, 40 years or even longer? These people who saw their children grow up here and who met their husbands and wives here – they must love this country deeper than me."
She said the Sunzen Art Gallery, which showcases Chinese art and cultural artifacts, was the perfect place to hold an event like this weekend's. Li described the core purpose of the gallery as promoting "the artistic and cultural exchange between the eastern and western worlds."
"It’s easy when times are difficult to blame what's known in sociology as the other – people that are different than us,” said Kurt Samer, who attended the event.
"There’s a lot more to drinking tea, than just drinking tea,” said Samer.
Admission to the tea ceremony was by donation, with all of the money collected going to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's Emergency Response Fund.
The recently launched fund supports response and prevention efforts to both the current novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), and future threats and emergencies that may occur.
“Funds raised will be used to meet the most pressing public health needs, as determined by experts, and may include research, technology, personnel and logistics,” said Kristy Kerr, executive director of the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health.
Sunday’s event raised more than $1,100.
“We are grateful to be the beneficiaries of this gift that will help us to support rapid-response initiatives that will allow for the speed and flexibility that is critical to understanding and halting an epidemic in real-time,” said Kerr.
There have been six cases of COVID-19 in B.C.
The most recent case involved a woman in her 30s who lives in the Fraser Health region and was returning from travel to Iran. On Sunday, it was revealed that she arrived in Vancouver aboard an Air Canada flight from Montreal on Valentine's Day.