Asian Heritage Month: An Inspiring Conversation with Christopher Tse
May 24, 2023
May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. At Pfizer, we are taking the opportunity to enrich our understanding of Asian Canadian experiences and spotlight their voices. This month, Pfizer colleague Joanne had a chance to sit down with Christopher Tse and discuss the inspiring work he’s done in the realm of anti-Asian discrimination.
Christopher is an educator and social worker currently based out of Whitehorse, Yukon. He is on the steering committee for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Anti-Asian Racism Coalition, and is also the poet behind Eyes Open and Model Minority – A History of Silence, the incredible spoken-word pieces that were produced for Asian Heritage Month in 2021. Joanne was motivated to reach out to Christopher after discovering the videos herself.
“The town that I grew up in had a population of 5,000 individuals, and my family was the Asian community. I was the only Asian in elementary school and high school. So many verses and things you said in the poem… it was like you saw what I had seen or experienced,” she explained to Christopher, when describing her experience of hearing his work for the first time.
During the interview, Joanne asked Christopher about the inspiration behind his work and how he understands its impact. Having written the poems for the purpose of spotlighting the importance of anti-Asian discrimination and the complexity of Asian identity, he explained his interest in exploring the myth of the “model minority”, and how it’s often used to keep minority voices oppressed across all intersections.
“I was very much playing up this idea of silence and how we’ve always been seen as a quiet people, the ‘just keep our heads down and work hard’ sort of thing,” he said. “I wanted to speak back to that a little and resist this notion that quietness or silence is equated with timidness and weakness, which are also descriptors that are often ascribed to our community.”
Alongside this, he wanted to put into words the stories that are often forgotten when it comes to Asian Canadian history and underscore the facets of Asian identity that aren’t always talked about.
“I'm always passionate about highlighting the diverse stories about our communities, because we're not a monolith."
For Joanne, the importance of bringing these topics into discussion hit home.
“I think when I look at the older generations especially, I know my parents are very hesitant. There’s still that instinct of being quiet and not speaking up.”
Christopher’s work illuminated the frustrations that those like Joanne experience when it comes to having loved ones struggle to find their voice and speak up for their rights, and to proudly thrive in their identities; but his work is also a unifying call to action for those who may be struggling to find solidarity in their communities and build the strength to speak up.
“It’s not even really so much about me or about my poems,” he said, “but it’s about how that inspires other people to take their space.”
They closed their conversation by looking toward the future and discussing the role that members of the Asian community and their allies play when it comes to making change for future generations.
“If we are bold, we will see that these are spaces that we can step into. Try out for that team, go for that position, run for political office. These are things that we historically haven’t done, and so it’s time. It’s our time,” said Christopher.
For allies, this is the time to listen, and to learn. For a more in-depth look at their conversation, you can watch their interview here, and we also encourage viewers to check out Christopher’s work: Eyes Open and Model Minority – A History of Silence.