Queering Asian Heritage Month

-By Rachna

Yesterday at a monthly staff meeting a group of co-workers made a presentation for South
Asian Heritage Month. Every time I hear the phrase “South Asian Heritage Month” I feel my normally-low blood pressure rise. These co-workers, salwar khameez and sari adorned, talked languages, religions, festivals and foods. For Pakistan and Bangladesh we even had to stand for the national anthems. I did all the leaning on a cupboard rather than standing straight with respect, smirking, eye rolling, sarcastic making-fun-of that I could without making a sound. At the end of the presentation I shot up my hand to offer my (alternate) opinion – for the record noting that according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, May is in fact ASIAN Heritage Month, and although Ontario recognises it as South Asian Heritage Month this is a slap in the face of our organisational inclusivity philosophies. I know that as an Indian governments have compartmentalised me as South Asian, but India is in fact in Asia and that is a an identity which is more real and meaningful to me. More importantly, I talked about how these ‘heritage months’ are offensive and demeaning to my history which I carry 12 months of the year, not just in May. A Black co-worker showed support by saying something about not appreciating the song and dance which is offered as racist tokenism and how she feels similarly about Black History Month. If we are to share and celebrate our histories, this should be done year-round. (I work for
a non-profit, community based health centre .)

I spent the rest of the day thinking a lot about what happened, how I responded and if anything would actually come from the critique. As I lay in my bed last night reading, I began to think about what it means to be a queer Asian.

I was reading Minal Hajratwala,’s Leaving India, the chapter which tells her individual story.As an Indian who has lived on 3 different continents and whose family is spread far across the globe, this book has felt like a gift. And then I began to think about all the other queer Asians who need to be recognised and thanked for their bravery, and for sharing their lives. Their stories, their images and their bodies make my life safer, more visible, more viable. Some of them only appear on my Twitter feed, some exist on the shelves and walls in my home, a few are alive in my heart everyday.

So here’s a short list of some of the queer Asians who make a difference in my life throughout the year, not just in May.

Minal Hajratwala
Jiz Lee
Sonali Gulati
Prerna Lal
The Disgrasian team
Mariko Tamaki
Stacey Ann Chin
Meera Sethi
Vivek Shraya
Casey Mecija
The fictional Kalinda Sharma played by Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife. Never before have

I seen an actual queer, brown, female character on television. But it wasn’t until the last episode (season 3 finale) that she finally outed herself as ‘flexible’ which is good enough me. And it’s not just that she’s a queer, brown character. She’s got a leading role, she’s fierce, she is the reason cases are won and her sexy scenes (although few and far between) are pretty steamy.

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