During the quarantine period, anti-Asian sentiments became increasingly apparent. The threat of businesses closing in Chinatown alongside the increasing awareness of the BLM movement and continued injustices to the Indigenous highlighted the fact that systemic white supremacy continues to pervade “Diverse” Canada. I couldn’t help but draw on my own experiences to the current events. One reflection I have been focused on is the childhood shame I experienced as I unpacked my “weird” lunches in the cafeteria of Orde St. PS or as I walked through “dirty” Chinatown. Meanwhile, I felt pride and fascination when I stumbled across smalltown Chinese restaurants that dotted the railways traversing through each province. I would also go out of my way to visit Chinatowns in my travels. Now, I look back at memories of Toronto’s Chinatown and scenes that no longer exist with melancholic fondness, wishing I had captured the mile-high stacks of wooden produce crates, lined up along Dundas St. or to just savour the taste of a Kim Moon Bakery mooncake once more. Many memories are connected to food and it has been a longstanding, passionate theme throughout my life. In fear of losing out on more opportunities to capture beautiful scenes of Chinatown, I began photographing and painting Chinese-owned storefronts before they too become a distant memory. The painting I am submitting is of King’s Noodles BBQ display as it is tied to feelings of shame, love, hard work and passion and is a longstanding, recognizable restaurant in Toronto’s disappearing Chinatown.
Born and raised in Toronto, my story is woven through the streets of this city. My parents are both refugees who came in the late 70s with not much to their names. With hard work and persistence, my dad opened a restaurant when I was just 1 year old. I was thrust into the food/restaurant industry and my childhood became full of memories intertwined with food. It wasn’t until recently, upon reflecting on my ties to the restaurant business that I realized how impactful this part of my childhood was on me. Lately, I have been thinking about my connection particularly to Chinese food and how that relates to my identification as a Chinese person. These ideas and connections are not always positive – sometimes filled with shame, embarrassment and ignorance. With the death of my grandma, I started working on embracing my Chinese heritage more and recognize how much of it I actually do love. When travelling, I often look forward to visiting the different Chinatowns which makes me wonder, why have I not had the same interest in my hometown Chinatown until more recent years? With the threat of Chinatown losing it’s legacy to gentrification and increased racial tensions with the onset of COVID, this interest beats even stronger. The pandemic has allowed me time to spend thinking and reflecting on these ideas, to connect with family members and work these contemplations along with an interest for history and past memories of Toronto into my artwork.
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