Saturday nights in the early 2000’s. Hockey Night in Canada. Me, my dad, the Leafs. You, during the first intermission.
One day, when the Leafs win the Cup, I’m going to celebrate proudly, remembering those times. Those times when my immigrant dad made me into a Leafs fan—those times that helped me lean into the “Canadian” part of my Asian-Canadian identity.
You helped me feel Canadian, at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the fact that in many ways, I didn’t look like, act like, speak like, eat like my “Canadian” (read: white) classmates. If I could eat rice for dinner and watch Hockey Night in Canada right after—first intermission Don Cherry rants and all—then maybe it was possible to be both Asian and Canadian all at once, you know?
That’s what made your comments on Saturday sting so much.
You made me believe I was Canadian. But all this time, it seems this is what you really thought.
You people come here and enjoy our way of life... The milk and honey... The least you could do...
I am not naïve to the fact that I enjoy my way of life on the backs of courageous people who made sacrifices beyond belief.
As a young man, my grandfather made a life-altering choice to make a courageous journey from China to the Philippines in order to secure what he believed would be a better future. One generation later, my parents made a similar journey here to Canada. I will never know the weight of the sacrifices these people who are just one, two or three generations above me made—some at my age or younger.
And it’s hard to believe—but the way they struggled pales in comparison to the struggle of other immigrants to Canada. We have tens of thousands of refugees in Canada who endured and fought wars, who watched their families die, who starved in refugee camps. After enduring one of the most dehumanizing systems on earth in the refugee system, they come to Canada and they are part of making it what it is. Many of them work endless hours, drive your Ubers, cook your meals, clean your hotel rooms.
The least you could do...
As young men and women, many Canadians made a life-altering choice to make a courageous journey from Canada to the frontlines of the Great War in order to secure what they believed would be a better future. Less than one generation later, many more young Canadians made a similar journey to fight in the Second World War. Millions of them died fighting in these wars. I will never know the weight of the sacrifices these people who are just two or three generations above me made—some at my age or younger.
They made the ultimate sacrifice in wars that should’ve shown us to never do it again, and yet violent conflict continues to rage around the world, often forcing people into refugee status and pushing people to flee to countries like ours.
I can guarantee you that those people know the gravity of the sacrifices made in war.
Those people know that the peace they enjoy here in Canada comes at a very steep price. They might not yet know that the way many people acknowledge this in Canada is by pinning a red flower to our coats for a couple weeks each year—and maybe they never will quite get into the habit—but I promise you that they don’t take any of this lightly.
It’s hard to know from the narrative that is often painted, but people of all kinds fought in both World Wars. Immigrants. Asian-Canadians, African-Canadians, Caribbean-Canadians, European-Canadians. First, second, third, fourth, fifth generation Canadians. Members of First Nations. People from British colonies all over the world—including Australians, South Asians and Africans.
The “you people” you referred to in your rant on Saturday night? They fought.
They fought in these tragic wars for peace, for freedom, for a world where everyone can enjoy life to the full.
The least you could do, Mr. Cherry...
But no—I won’t go pointing fingers.
Instead, I’ll invite all of us—Canadians, you and me both—to this: The least we could do is continue their fight.
See, you’re right, Mr. Cherry. You and I have a “milk and honey” way of life—and we enjoy this life on the backs of the rest of the world that doesn’t.
You were upset because of a lack of respect for people who died for this country. So, you might be interested to know that there are people dying for much less. People are dying in the mines where the metal in your cell phone comes from. People are dying in the factories that make our clothes, on the farms that produce our coffee. Indigenous people are dying on reserves here in Canada, enduring the neglect of the rest of us drinking our milk and honey.
And people aren’t just dying. They’re enduring extreme poverty and slavery. Oppression and injustice. Misogyny. And racism much like the stuff you said on Saturday night.
Our world is still far from the one I believe our ancestors were dreaming of when they made the sacrifices that they did.
So, each year, when I pin a poppy to my coat, along with my immigrant dad who taught me to love Leafs hockey and Hockey Night in Canada, I not only remember the sacrifices that people made and make for Canada to be as beautiful, diverse and vibrant as it is. I also commit to continuing to fight—to make sacrifices of my own that will make this country and this world more peaceful, free and whole.
Lest we forget.