University of Waterloo Library’s Student Engagement Committee is thrilled to deliver you the third issue of our 2021 Asian Heritage Month newsletter series! Tell all your friends so they can subscribe to the Asian Heritage Month newsletter, too!
Each issue includes a selection of fun and informative content, including recipes, film recommendations, stress-relieving activities and more! We’ll also delve a little deeper into topics that explore some of the many ways the Asian diaspora has contributed to our country and culture, and the ongoing challenges these diverse communities continue to face locally and globally. Of course, it wouldn’t be a library newsletter if we didn’t follow that up with some recommended readings!
Learn more about Asian Heritage Month activities at University of Waterloo.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the impacts of anti-Asian hate and racism, you can get support from Waterloo’s Counselling Services, or visit Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion’s Anti-racism resources.
Impacts of COVID-19 on manufacturing
The past year has brought great devastation to many around the world, including China’s manufacturing industry. Over the past 40 years, China has become the world’s factory due to the lower labour rates, rapid production speeds, and efficient business ecosystem. However, China’s production industry is on the decline following their shift towards a service economy, with a rising population and an increasing global concern for their environmental and wage regulations. Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic led to further factory shutdowns due to rises in anti-Asian xenophobia and additional geopolitical tensions, causing their industrial production to drop dramatically. Many countries worldwide, including Canada, rely on goods made in China; therefore, the drop in manufacturing ultimately delayed deliveries globally. As China’s manufacturing industry continues to decline, many companies are relocating to other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and India.
Ethics of consumption
As previously mentioned, low labour costs provide an incentive for large companies to locate their production sites in certain Asian countries without enforced labour rights. The lack of labour laws from local governments allows large brands such as H&M and Nike to negate fair wages and adequate working conditions, regardless of their global success. More recently, the impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for garment workers because brands have shifted their financial burdens onto the workers by leaving them without pay and many without jobs. Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Topshop, and many more brands have yet to pay their garment workers for completed orders, while others have committed to pay after receiving widespread scrutiny. Not only have they been underpaid and mistreated, but the pandemic has also caused many factories to resort to forced labour in order to meet the quick production rates demanded by brands.
When examining ethics of production, each stage introduces additional injustices. Providing a local perspective, many ethnic enclaves surrounding Toronto are home to numerous Amazon fulfilment centres, warehouses, and factories, particularly Brampton, Ontario. Individuals who work in these facilities have endured higher COVID-19 rates when comparing them to surrounding regions due to an abundance of structural inequities impacting the large South Asian population. The poor working conditions, lack of physical space for distancing, larger households, and a higher proportion of essential workers led to a disproportionate rise in COVID-19 cases. The abundance of Amazon orders placed are processed through these fulfilment centres, where workers continue to suffer the impacts of systemic racism. The systemic inequities continue as vaccines became available to older populations first, with a lack of priority given to these high-risk neighbourhoods. As retired folks and work-from-home individuals became protected, Asian essential workers were left behind.
As a society, capitalist ideals result in overproduction and overconsumption, where economic growth is the goal. Currently, wealthier countries live in abundance, reliant on the mass production of goods to provide sufficient supply for their increasing demand. These goods are often produced in Asian countries, leaving them with exhausted resources, greenhouse gases, and other environmental burdens. Not only this, but the industrial sector in Asian countries exposes their populations to harmful pollutants that negatively impact one’s health. Many of these countries also heavily contribute carbon emissions due to their manufacturing responsibility to maintain supply for global companies. Nevertheless, many Asian countries are shifting towards more sustainable practices, by incorporating more renewable energy sources. China’s wind and solar capacity are unprecedented, Bangladesh has the fastest growing solar home systems program, and India is the third-largest electricity user.
Another essential element of sustainability in thoughtful consumption connects to traditional practices found throughout Asia. Many cultures have sustainability at the core of their culture that influences their way of life. In India, sustainable practices like bucket baths, sun-drying clothes, and an aversion to food waste are typical to everyone. They also believe in having a non-materialistic lifestyle, only owning what is necessary for the current stage of life. In addition, other languages have words relating to sustainability that we do not have in English. For example, the Mandarin word, Zhuan Song (转送) describes the act of re-gifting items to stop them from going to waste, and the Japanese word, Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is the act of mending ceramics with gold to celebrate the beauty of an object even with its flaws.
Intersectional environmentalism in thoughtful consumption
Further readings on thoughtful consumption
My Life with Things: The Consumer Diaries, by Elizabeth Chin (2016): Unconventional and provocative, My Life with Things is Elizabeth Chin's meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology. Chin centres the book on diary entries that focus on everyday items — kitchen cabinet knobs, shoes, a piano — and uses them to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.
The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West, edited by Sheldon M. Garon and Patricia L. Maclachlan (2006): The Ambivalent Consumer is the first comparative volume to examine the global phenomena of consumer culture from the perspective of East Asia, and it analyzes not only the attractions of mass consumption but also the many discontents and dilemmas that arise from consumerism.
Consumer India: Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet, by Dheeraj Sinha (2011): A richly insightful account of one of the most significant transformations in the world today. Dheeraj Sinha's intelligence vividly illuminates the intersection of culture and commerce in New India.
Vietnamese ‘Boat People’ puzzle. After the Vietnam war in 1975, millions of Vietnamese refugees fled in boats in search of freedom. Canada was one of a handful of countries that received these refugees. Journey to Freedom Day on April 30 celebrates the journey of the boat people to Canada. “Vietnamese Boat People - Thuyền nhân VN” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Learn from Chef and restaurant owner Dennis Wong from Le Soleil Restaurant in San Jose, CA as he guides you through making his Vietnamese Shaking Beef recipe!
Reduce your impact on the environment by buying local! See our map of local Asian-owned business in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
The University of Waterloo offers courses in East Asian Studies (EAS). A great way to learn more about East Asian culture and language (as well as get a credit or two) is to partake in these courses. EAS offers courses such as:
- EASIA 275R - Religion and Japanese film
- EASIA 231R - Calligraphy to conceptual art: Text as an image in Islamic and East Asian visual arts
- EASIA 120R - Monsters and magic in Japanese popular culture
- EASIA 202R - Chinese culture and society
This only covers a small amount of the courses offered as there are dozens more that range in course level, and topic as you can choose to learn more about East Asian history, or an East Asian language such as Korean (course code: KOREA 101R — First-Year Korean 1).
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. — Provided by publisher.
The Raid: Redemption (2012): In Jakarta, Indonesia Lieutenant Wahyu organizes the invasion of the safehouse of a very powerful drug lord and his gang in the hopes of bringing them down. However, with their cover blown, Wahyu and his men must charge through the building to complete the mission and hopefully survive. This Indonesian action thriller will sure keep you at the edge of your seat.
The Grace Lee Project: Grace Lee is a Korean American from Missouri, US. As she grew up, she began to realize the common nature of her name and the many preconceived notions surrounding it. Someone named Grace Lee is nice, quiet, and smart; someone both impressive and forgettable. Set to break the mold of her name, Grace Lee finds other individuals by this name around the world to showcase their unique character traits and stories. This documentary deconstructs many stereotypes associated with “Grace Lee” and Asian-Americans, while exploring identity issues related to culture, ethnicity, and humanity. Available through University of Waterloo's subscription to Kanopy.
Gua sha or “jade scraping” is traditional Chinese healing method where a professional uses a smooth-edged tool to glide across the skin while applying pressure. It originally started as a body treatment that creates red spots on the skin called petechiae. Those who practice gua sha believe it releases unhealthy matter in the blood of sore, tired, or injured areas that are caused by a disruption of qi. More recently, gua sha is being used as a facial massage that can be practiced at home using the same scraping technique. The movements are meant to assist with lymphatic drainage and the result is a more sculpted and lifted appearance. You can try this yourself, as jade scrapers and rollers are now widely available, or use any smooth-edged tool.