This past weekend, my parents visited me for Mother’s Day. I live in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighborhood, and while we were exploring its local restaurants and shops, we came across a mural depicting Portuguese “cleaning ladies” and their Cleaners’ Action movement from the 1970s-80s. Now what does this have to do with Asian Heritage Month (also known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the U.S.)?
Like the Portuguese immigrants of the city, members of my Filipino Canadian community have also had to fight for their rights. At the same time that the “cleaning ladies” were mobilizing, a national campaign pressured the federal government to create a pathway to citizenship for the thousands of foreign domestic workers, many of whom were and continue to be Filipino women. Today, many of the healthcare workers at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic have been Filipina nurses, who have urged the Canadian government for stronger protections.
This year, the theme of Asian Heritage Month here in Canada is “Stories of Determination,” which couldn’t better describe the struggles that members of my community have had to go through, and again, continue to go through, to thrive in this new place we call home. Did you know that Asian Disciples have had to fight for their rights, too?
In the 1980s, JoAnne Kagiwada lobbied Washington, DC to issue a redress bill to Japanese Americans that were interned during WWII, leaning upon her network in the DOC to garner votes from across the States. Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of her husband David and other leaders including Soongook Choi and Grace Kim, the American-Asian Disciples ministry, as it was then known, was recognized as a constituency by the General Board in 1984 (although it wasn’t granted status as a general unit until 2009).
In my community, we respect our elders, no matter if you’re an older sister, aunt, or grandmother. This past weekend it was so nourishing for me to be in the company of my mom, as we ate dumplings in the local Chinatown, and she spoke of her own mother, whom I never met. These two values, of elder respect and storytelling, is what keeps my community, both Filipino and Disciples, vibrant and alive.
So as we go through the second half of Asian Heritage Month, I urge non-Asian Disciples to ask themselves what stories they choose to share – at worship, at Regional and General Assemblies, in seminary – of our Disciples history. Do you just choose to share the stories of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell? What does this mean for those who are listening? Let us tell stories that are as varied as our heritage, one that is diverse, complex, messy, and life-giving all at the same time, that truly respect the experiences of all those who came before us.
This reflection also appeared in the May 2023 issue of our newsletter.