Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Illustration by Yasmine Elsayed

Dr. Larissa Lai on Asian Heritage Month

By Danise Simpelo, June 11 2021—

Asian Heritage Month, which is celebrated in May, highlights the many achievements and contributions of those of Asian descent. 

For the year 2021, the Government of Canada released the theme for this year as “Recognition, Resilience and Resolve.” This theme aimed to embody the multitude of sentiments from all individuals of Asian descent in Canada and honours contributions and stories that are rooted in resilience and perseverance. 

The message also came with a call to action for all Canadians to come together to combat all forms of anti-Asian racism and discrimination in light of the anti-Asian violence protests in March of this year.

The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts Media celebrated with a video highlighting Dr. Larissa Lai — a professor in Creative Writing. 

In this short clip, Lai addresses the harmful impact of COVID-19 towards the Asian community. 

“Asians and Asian-looking people have been scapegoated for COVID,” said Lai. “There’s nothing new in this history of race and racialization in Canada. There is a long standing stereotype of Asians as diseased — this is what my recent novel, Tiger Flu is about. 

She notes that although her novel was written prior to COVID-19, it tackles a pandemic that was brought about by the extinction of the Caspian tiger and the craze for tiger bone wine.

In her description of her novel, Lai explores themes of power and the loss of power in the world of production and consumption.

Lai brings up the idea of Asians in popular culture and how they are tied to the idea of the future but not seen as human within it. She compares it to the idea of the white men in Star Trek and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century such as Captain Kirk, Jean Luc-Picard and Buck Rogers who are seen as humans, and other examples such as Ex Machina or films in the Marvel franchise where the first Asian character in the Guardian of the Galaxy movie was an alien.

“The Asians are seen as aliens, robots, cyborgs, insects or monsters. My novel plays with these tropes and tries to turn them upside down,” Lai said.

Lai maintains that Asian Heritage Month is important to recognize that anti-asian racism and discrimination is still evident, especially in light of COVID-19 and the anti-asian protests occurring in March of this year.

To watch the clip of Dr. Larissa Lai, click here. To view her work and other potential written literature, click here.


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