When multi-generational residents of Whistler reached out to Pique last week to share stories of racism, I admit to feeling absolutely deflated, like finally there was simply no more wind in my sails.
Like everyone, my personal and professional life has been turned upside down by COVID-19: My university-attending kids are home and struggling to find "normal;" we all miss our freedom; we all miss our friends; we are pretending that everything is "fine;" and none of us wants to talk about what tomorrow will bring never mind the rest of the year.
But outside of this personal roller coaster, a certain measure of peace could be drawn from how fortunate we were to be in Canada, in B.C., and especially Whistler, surrounded by nature and in a community where we can rely on our neighbours for help and support and know that together, we will get through this.
How, then, could racist slurs be happening here?
In case you missed it, Whistler local Kyoko Hamazaki told us of two incidents of racism recently. One happened when a Caucasian man shouted at a family member in the village words to the effect of "Chinese, go back home." While another happened via Facebook when a friend of Kyoko's of South Korean heritage posted a child's tricycle for free and a commenter responded, "You'd better sanitize it, she's Asian."
The Hamazaki family has a long and storied connection to the resort. Toshi Hamazaki arrived in Whistler in the fall of 1970 after being head-hunted by those putting together Whistler's ski school. He raised his family here and today they run TMC Freeriderz, Whistler's Lips lip balm and the Advantage English Language School. Though Toshi has passed away, the family is a valued and respected part of the fabric of Whistler. It's not always been easy and Kyoko recalled to Pique that she experienced racism here as a child, but she felt the resort has moved forward from that.
"I'm just completely shocked, and I was just angry that we have to do this all over again. Like, we've taken steps back," she said.
The fact that these racist attacks are on the rise in Canada needs to be faced head on. These despicable events must be met with zero tolerance and all of us must stand up for others no matter a person's country of origin.
Crisis can bring out the best in people, as we have seen with the true heroics reported on every day when it comes to COVID-19, but it can also bring out the worst, such as racism and intolerance (and let's not forget the alarming rise in domestic assault, a serious issue that will have its own editorial in the future).
New research from the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) found that one in five respondents in the nation's biggest cities said they do not believe it's safe to sit next to an Asian or Chinese person on a bus if they're not wearing a mask.
Four per cent of respondents said they think all Chinese or Asian people are carrying the COVID-19 virus. Susan Eng, the director of the CCNC-SJ, said with results like this, it's not surprising we are seeing an increase in anti-Asian racism. "Canada's leaders must stand up and unequivocally denounce every such racist incident and ill-informed belief, lest this behaviour is deemed acceptable and others are invited to do the same," she said in a release.
On Sunday, May 17, Premier John Horgan did just that saying in a release, "Everyone has a right to live without fear of violence or discrimination. Yet we are hearing disturbing stories of a rise in anti-Asian racist behaviour since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are being targeted as they go about their daily lives. It is unacceptable.
"Racism is also a virus. We are always stronger and more resilient as a province when we treat each other with kindness, generosity and respect. To do so, we must all stand together to call out racism and discrimination when we see it."
Here in Whistler, two founding members of our community—Cliff and Vivien Jennings—reminded us while commenting on Pique's website that fighting racism and intolerance holds an even higher importance here in the resort as we are an international destination.
"Without tourists from all over the world, this town will not be able to exist," wrote Vivien. "I have lived in Whistler full time since before 1970. We have come a long way since then in making this place a viable town, and I have witnessed the struggles. We will have many of these struggles in opening up again to a sustainable future due to COVID-19.
"We need tourists from all over the world to come here again and not necessarily for the skiing ... but to come here for our hospitality, valley scenery and activities.
"Welcome everyone no matter who or where they come from and what their attitudes are, so that they always leave feeling good about you and about Whistler."