The Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick (AHSNB) creates exhibits for Asian Heritage Month (AHM) featuring the local and national histories of Korean, South Asian, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese and Iranian Canadians. This material is made into posters and exhibited on large display boards in heavily trafficked areas where the public has the opportunity to view them free of charge.
The AHSNB has organized the Explor/Asians Exhibition annually since 2006 to create public awareness of the experiences and contributions of Asian Canadians. This initiative follows the federal mandate of Asian Heritage Month to honour the legacy of Canadians of Asian heritage, with a focus on the history and contributions of Asian Canadians in New Brunswick.
The AHSNB selects a different theme or featured community each year and creates an exhibition featuring a timeline history, historical photos and profiles of outstanding Asian Canadians in the local community. The Explor/Asians Exhibition launches in the lobby of the Premier's office and is open to the public for two months. The materials are subsequently available on loan to schools, and cultural and community associations. In addition, Explor/AsiansCDs are created and sent to teachers and other interested parties.
The federal government formally declared May as Asian Heritage Month in 2002, in recognition of the many social, political and economic contributions of Asian Canadians, both past and present. The AHSNB was founded that same year to follow the federal mandate of AHM in a local context.
Asians are the fastest-growing immigrant population in New Brunswick and a key part of the provincial government's strategy on population and economic growth. At the same time, Asians have a long history in the province, spanning over a century, and have made many important contributions to its growth and development. As a minority group, their history is not well-known, even amongst Asians themselves. The AHSNB felt it was crucial to educate the public on this history as a means of fostering local pride in the multicultural history of the province and understanding of the ways that immigrants enhance communities. This, in turn, creates a more welcoming and appreciative environment and promotes the integration and retention of ethnocultural minorities.
The AHSNB's goal is to raise the visibility of Asian Canadians, educate the public about their history and contributions, and fill in gaps in the mainstream historical narrative. It is important that Asian Canadians and other ethnic minorities have positive historical role models and an understanding of how they fit into the social fabric of Canada. This facilitates a sense of citizenship and belonging, and prevents alienation and exclusion. As an anti-racism initiative, it is important that the wider public has an understanding not only of the historical contributions of Asian Canadians, but also of their struggles against social and institutional discrimination. This helps reinforce a commitment to creating fair and tolerant communities, and fosters respect for multiculturalism, democracy and peace.
The Explor/Asians Exhibition was born out of the need to fill gaps in the curriculum regarding Asian Canadian history. Students learn very little about the historical experiences of Asian Canadians or other ethnic minorities. While the Asian population in New Brunswick is small, it has contributed in important ways to the development of the province, beginning in the 1880s when Lebanese immigrants worked as peddlers servicing isolated farms and rural communities. In the 1960s, the adoption of the Points System allowed New Brunswick to benefit by gaining many highly qualified doctors, professors, businesspeople and other professionals from South Asia. The AHSNB believed that knowledge of these and other aspects of Asian Canadian history would help prevent racism and alienation by fostering an appreciation for the role of immigrants and ethnic minorities in creating healthy and vibrant communities.
Making a Difference
What makes the initiative successful is public interest, the participation of the local Asian Canadian community, and strong partnerships with schools, post-secondary institutions and government departments.
Local Asian Canadian communities that have participated in the Explor/Asians project have been able to learn more about their own histories, share their experiences with the public, and in the case of newer immigrants, use the exhibition as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the community. For example, one of the exhibits featured Iranian Canadians, a new but growing population in New Brunswick. The exhibition featured a timeline history of Iranian immigration to Canada, motivations for immigrating, a feature on sectors in which Iranian Canadians are making outstanding contributions, and a section profiling local Iranian Canadian business owners and community members. The Iranian community worked closely with the AHSNB to create the exhibit and have since re-used the materials in their own cultural events and during public fairs and festivals. Other featured communities have been positively affected in similar ways.
The exhibition also creates networking opportunities for Asian Canadians. Many community leaders and dignitaries from the provincial and municipal governments attend the launch of the exhibition and have the opportunity to personally connect with members of the Asian Canadian community.
The main challenge in developing this initiative is securing enough regular funding to pay for researching, writing, creating and translating the exhibition materials. The AHSNB would also like to integrate Asian Canadian history within the mainstream school curriculum, but making changes at this level has been difficult. Nonetheless, in the last several years the AHSNB has enjoyed a growing relationship with the Department of Education, and increased interest from schools, teachers and post-secondary institutions. It is hopeful that the materials it has developed may someday be used in the classroom.
Vision for the Future
The AHSNB has four chapters in New Brunswick. The Explor/Asians Exhibition takes place in Fredericton but other chapters have started to hold their own exhibitions and have incorporated similar initiatives into their AHM celebrations by hosting public lectures on local Asian Canadian history.
The AHSNB plans to expand this initiative by exploring other creative means of increasing awareness of Asian Canadian history, including partnering with the New Brunswick Film Co-Op.
The AHSNB is also compiling the Explor/Asiansmaterial and expanding it into a book project on the early immigration history of Asians in New Brunswick. This project will be a great resource for future generations and for the descendants of Asian immigrants who wish to learn more about their family history.
About the Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick
The Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick is a non-profit organization with members from diverse Asian Canadian communities.
In addition to AHM activities, the AHSNB's major objectives include:
Best Practice Contact
Madhu Verma, Chair, Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick
28 Saunders St. Fredericton, NB E3B 1N1