Since the onset of the novel coronavirus, there has been a spike in acts of racism toward East Asian communities across the world. Anti-Asian racism has greatly affected Montreal’s Chinatown and has stressed the community, which was already struggling due to the loss of tourists from the pandemic. Whether this stigmatization is sparked by Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric in referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” or the constant circulation of misinformation, Chinatowns around the world have experienced a significant drop in visitors and an increase in acts of hate.
To combat the decrease in customers and the uptick in racial profiling, Bill Wong, treasurer of the Montreal Chinatown Development Council, created Fortunes for Solidarity. The initiative was launched only a month after the Chinese Association of Montreal, the Montreal Chinatown Development Council, and The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations called for a $1 million relief fund due to the significant drop in business in the neighborhood.
The goal of Fortunes for Solidarity is to assuage the racism plaguing the neighborhood with sweet treats. A dozen restaurants, bakeries, and bubble tea spots in Chinatown will be handing out 5,000 fortune cookies with positive messages and a discount code until the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Edmond Ku, co-owner of Restaurant Dobe & Andy, believes that this initiative will help to bring tourists and visitors back to the neighborhood.
“We wanted to join this [Fortunes for Solidarity] to try to send a positive message about the situation we are in,” Ku said in an interview with the Tribune.
Anti-Asian racism in Montreal has risen this past year, as some Asian students at McGill have noticed. Stephanie Zhou, U3 Science, told the Tribune that she has experienced rising levels of discrimination.
“On the way home from the grocery a couple of weeks ago I was just crossing the street with a mask on and a woman on a bike yelled at me that I had taken away her freedoms,” Zhou said.
During the early months of the virus, the historic gates that mark the entry to Chinatown were vandalized. In more incidences of vandalism in recent weeks, many store fronts have been broken into, and the community continues to be unjustly blamed for the virus. Sherry Ao, president of the Montreal Chinatown Development Council, told The McGill Tribune in an interview that Montreal’s Asian communities feel attacked.
“I have personally not dealt with any racism because I have started driving to my office in the morning, but I know many people who have been told to go back to their country,” Ao said. “I know of a young girl who is only 13 who was walking on Sherbrooke [Street] in front of McGill and was hit by a French Canadian. He called her names, hit her, and she even fell to the ground.”
While City Hall’s Deputy opposition leader Francesco Miele and councillor Marvin Rotrand have both made statements denouncing these acts of hate, they still continue to happen.
The fortune cookies contain messages to combat discimination, reminders to respect and follow the government’s COVID-19 guidelines, and quotes nudging customers to visit Chinatown. Some examples included: “The wise practice social distancing, not racial discrimination,” and “Discrimination hurts; solidarity cures.” Additionally, the fortune cookies have a 10 per cent discount code towards participating businesses on the back of the fortune.
“It is important to not be afraid of us,” Ao said. “If people get to know us, the fear of getting the virus from us will go away because we are all afraid of the unknown. The virus is [infectious and frightening], but we didn’t create it. We have to […] follow the guidelines given by the government, and wear masks.”
Montreal’s Chinatown is rich with community, culture, and delicious food for students to enjoy. A trip to Chinatown could serve as a great study break and a way to support locally owned Montreal businesses during these difficult times.
As detailed on The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations website, restaurants participating in Fortune for Solidarity include: Chatime Chinatown, Ding Xiang Dumplings, Restaurant Beijing Inc., Pâtisserie Harmonie, Restaurant Cuisine Cantonaise, Pâtisserie Coco, Restaurant Chez Maxim Oriental, Restaurant Le Vent Doux, Restaurant Fung Shing, Restaurant Dobe & Andy, and Fleurs et Cadeaux.