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Why ‘Asian’ isn’t a one-size-fits-all term for many Canadians

May 13, 2021

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Asian”?

For Muhammad Akbar Ali, it’s a complicated answer, and every year at this time, his mixed feelings get amplified during Asian Heritage Month.

“I don’t feel ownership, and to me, I don’t feel like I’m celebrating the month for myself. I think it’s beautiful for others, but it’s not [about] me,” said the 29-year-old.

Born in Niagara, Ont., Ali grew up in the Greater Toronto Area before moving to Ottawa for work. Despite having Indian and Pakistani roots, Ali said he’s never identified with the term Asian. He said his parents taught him cultural traditions, but neither Asian nor even South Asian were terms used at home.

“They wouldn’t identify in that way,” he said. “I feel like in some ways it could be a disservice even, or misidentify,” he said.

Ali is not alone. During the month of May, many Canadians, especially those with South Asian roots, revisit a familiar inner dialogue about what means to be Asian.

Too broad a term

For Puran Guram, the term is simply too broad.

“Asia is such a big continent, I never referred to myself as Asian. It was always Indian, and being Indian it was always Punjabi,” said Guram, 38. “It was kind of like educating everybody about where you’re from and keeping your culture.”

Source: CBC News