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'Died Like A Pig' Outrage Raises Questions For Chinese Canadians

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ai yanhan olympic
Yanhan Ai of China competes in the women's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Commentator Byron MacDonald said of the 14-year-old "Too excited, went out like a stink and died like a pig." (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

When Byron MacDonald said a 14-year-old Chinese swimmer "died like a pig" during the course of the women's 4 X 200m swimming relay race at the Rio Olympics, it created an uproar in the Chinese community here. Many Chinese Canadians have taken to WeChat to express their anger. Some felt he was a downright racist.

Is Byron MacDonald a racist? We may never know. But what I am interested to find out is why some of us got so upset. Why were some Chinese Canadians so sensitive around this issue in particular? Behind this easily stoked anger, is there some grievance that has not been addressed? I sat down with several Chinese Canadians from all walks of life and got their takes on this.

Edward Ai, a 55-year-old driving school instructor, has been in Canada for 15 years. He felt although "died like a pig" is an English idiom, to use it on a 14-year-old swimmer is wrong.

"Racism is alive and well in Canadian society. Deep down, I think some white folks still feel that we are second-class citizens and we don't belong here," says Mr. Ai. However, he admits that Chinese people seem to get easily provoked. "When you have a white guy walking on the borderline of racism, we just kind of lost it. So perhaps this anger comes from our natural inferiority complex as people of colour mixed with a strong sense of Chinese nationalism."

Mr. Ai says that he feels a majority of the Chinese community is segregated from the mainstream culture. "I feel we are culturally marginalized. Although it is not necessarily the fault of Canadian society, our language barrier is the biggest factor contributing to this kind of segregation."

Mr. Ai estimates that 95 per cent of his clients are Chinese. "I have known people who have been here for 20 years, they do well, yet they don't speak a word of English. So for us, the first generation immigrants, there is no hope that we can fully integrate into the Canadian society. This really frustrates me sometimes."

If multiculturalism is the foundation of our modern Canadian values, then are we shortchanging our immigrants by not providing them with a comprehensive pathway to cultural integration? If diversity is our strength, then is there an entire generation of immigrants who feel culturally marginalized as a result of our laissez faire approach to settling them?

Sunny Li, a mental health worker, and Alick Siu, a banking IT executive, both felt that the anger behind "died like a pig" is somewhat exaggerated.

Sunny said she only found out about the incident from the Chinese media. She felt rather surprised that some Chinese media have turned this into an insult on the Chinese people.

Alick Siu said he is willing to give MacDonald the benefit of doubt. Neither of them felt personally offended. But Sunny was not upset. "I don't feel I need to get upset because one thoughtless commentator on CBC used the wrong phrase. Some so-called leaders in the Chinese community are getting angry over this issue, but I don't feel these 'community leaders' represent who I am. They don't speak on my behalf, either."

Alick Siu further added that through his own career in banking, he never personally experienced any racism. His Chinese coworkers however often expressed that it is a lot easier to mix and mingle with others who come from the same ethnic background. It is worthwhile to notice that both Sunny Li and Alick Siu speak much better English than Edward Ai. Their jobs involve working with people outside of their own ethnic group.

Nick Yun, Chief Constable at York Region Police, sees this matter differently.

"I feel our anger is legitimate," he says. The police officer came to Canada in 2001. He feels that the Chinese community is making a conscious effort to integrate with the mainstream Canadian society. But he still sees a large gap.

Nick Yun says that he often feels that the Chinese community is in its own insular clique because not many people from the community participate in civic engagement or civic action, although it does get better with second- and third-generation Chinese Canadians. "At the end of the day, we really have to ask ourselves, do we want to make Canada more like China?" asks Mr. Yun.

There is no consensus in the Chinese community concerning MacDonald's remarks. Some are offended. Some are not. At the end of the day, they amount to nothing more than a tempest in a teapot that has already outlived its 15 minutes of fame. But the incident raises broader questions for Chinese Canadians. Will we continue to look inward and gaze at our navels? Or will it galvanize us into political action to make Canada a better place for us and our children?

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