On May 11, Eastwood Collegiate Institute (ECI) hosted the inaugural Asian Heritage Day under the theme, One Asia, Many Cultures, a first-of-its-kind event for the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB). The event offered students opportunities to connect with their roots, celebrate their heritages and learn about the histories of Asian cultures in Canada.

The day kicked off with students enjoying snacks found across Asian cultures, including chatpata dal, Pocky, Monaco and fab!, while they walked through a pop-up art exhibit featuring work from local artist Roshan James and ceramist Ailia Rizvi and connected with students from across WRDSB.

ECI’s Asian Student Union (ASU) members Kira Schlei, Divya Ramachandran, and Carmen Yang opened the event. They welcomed Pam Kaur, Superintendent of Student Achievement and Well-Being, to give her welcoming remarks.

In her speech, Kaur recognized the event’s significance, “it is not lost on us that this first event of its kind has come late, but it signifies that we are here to stay. We speak many tongues and take on roles. We are one Asia, made up of many cultures.”

Prabjot Kour and Jina Choi, students from ECI ASU, delivered the territorial acknowledgement in English, Punjab and Mandarin. Honourable Bardish Chagger, MP Waterloo recognised the occasion by sending a letter which was read by Divya Ramachandran. In the letter, Chaggerspoke of her family’s journey to Canada and acknowledged the many achievements and contributions “Asian communities have made to the fabric of our society.”

Chagger finished the letter with a call to Canadians, “I encourage all Canadians from coast to coast to coast to learn more about the rich cultures and history of all communities of Asian descent in Canada. Let us use this Asian Heritage Month to continue building a better and consciously more inclusive Canada for everyone.”

Student Trustee Vaishnave Raina then joined the stage to share her experience with racism when she arrived in Canada with her family.

“When I arrived in Canada, the other kids would make fun of my name. I wanted to be anything but Indian. I just wanted to fit in,” said Raina. “Ignorance of a problem does not stop it. I want to live in a world where we are all born with equal rights. Recognizing the diversity of our Asian heritages is a step in that direction.”

The event was headlined with powerful performances by local artists and WRDSB alumni, including spoken word and hip hop artist Champa Carmen, dance and theatre artist Kate Kamo McHugh, musicians Clarissa Dionko and Caleb Khuu and folk-jazz singer, songwriter and founder of KW Poetry Slam, Janice Jo Lee.

Deepa Ahluwalia, Human Rights and Equity Advisor at WRDSB, was also recognized at the event. Ahluwalia has played an integral role in advocating for inclusion and equity in education, and was central in creating the Indigenous Equity and Human Rights (IEHR) team at WRDSB.

“It’s amazing to see the progress we have made as a board and a region in recognizing and celebrating the diverse experiences of people of Asian descent. It’s moments like this, where we can come together to celebrate and uplift the voices and experiences of our diverse community, that make all the hard work worth it,” said Ahluwalia. “I am honoured to be a part of a team that is so committed to advancing equity and human rights in our system, and prioritizing and celebrating identity across our schools and communities.”

The event was closed with remarks from Gwen Le-Phuong, WRDSB Mental Health Lead, who emphasized the importance of recognizing and celebrating diversity in our community.

jeewan chanicka, Director of Education, said of the event, “One Asia, Many Cultures was a powerful reflection of the strength of the diverse talents and gifts people of Asian heritage share with the world. As we continue on the journey of celebrating the diverse experiences, legacies and resilience of the students, families and communities we serve, we strengthen a sense of belonging and community. When that happens, student achievement and well-being will increase.

A special thanks go to the teams at Textile Magazine, ECI’s Asian Student Union and the Indigenous Equity and Human Rights team at WRDSB for the work in planning the first National Asian Heritage Month event.

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