We are thrilled to celebrate Asian Heritage Month in 2021. With so many different virtual events reflecting on Canada's Asian heritage, there has never been a better time to familiarize oneself with the contributions of Canadians of Asian decent.
It was an absolute pleasure for Nathon Kong to participate in a series by CBC promoting the recognition of Asian culture in Canada. In a conversation with Glenn Macaulay, Nathon discusses COVID, its effect on business, anti-asian hate crimes, and the themes of "Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve."
Celebrating Asian Heritage Month in Canada
When you look back on this year, what will you remember most?
For me, the answer is COVID. The pandemic has defined 2020 and 2021. But it is less about what COVID is as a disease, but what has happened in Canada as a result. There were underlying issues in Canada that came to the surface over the course of the pandemic, such as mental health, inequality, and the intolerance of others. COVID was an excellerator to these issues, but the issues were always there.
When challenges like COVID come into our lives, we tend to blame the situation or to blame others when they prevent us from achieving our goals. But you can’t change the people around you nor can you control what happens to you. You have to look into yourself and work on what you can change about yourself to do better in the future.
What gives you hope these days?
For me, I am hoping that the challenges of today will contribute to my personal development. I hope that through this pandemic, I will become a better human being. So often we look to the future, but the future is uncertain. I want to look to today and do the best I can in the present.
Has the pandemic changed the way you think about your identity as an Asian Canadian?
I am of Thai origin. In Thailand, I was considered Chinese-Thai. In my life, I have lived all over the world: from Thailand to India and finally Canada. I’ve always been different from the people around me. Being different has become a part of my identity and I am grateful for it. It has given me the ability to relate to many different people and to see the humanity in everyone.
Have you or someone you know contract COVID? How did it affect you, your family or your business?
I’ve been very lucky. No one in my immediate family had COVID, or anyone from my team. I had a few clients and someone I know from my gym who caught the virus. I think it's the issues that came with the virus that affected them more than the virus itself. The isolation, the struggles of their businesses and careers, and the discrimination.
My sister is a healthcare worker, a surgeon in Thailand. She is afraid of bringing the virus home to our mom, same as anyone working in healthcare during these times.
The fashion and retail business have been greatly impacted by the pandemic. I don’t do fashion shows, but no one is going out. They aren’t looking for new suits, and I understand why. I am so grateful to be living in Canada and to have the support of the government to pay my employees through subsidies.
The only constant in life is change. We can’t control what is going to happen to us, so I try to focus on what I can control. Since suit tailoring is slow during the pandemic, I still need to keep going, keep a growth mindset, and try to make the best of today. That is why we’ve moved to an ecommerce platform and I have started to teach my team new skills. When something does not succeed, I try not to blame anyone or anything and instead focus on what I can control to be sucessful.
Photo by Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste
The only constant in life is change.
- Nathon Kong
Have you or someone you know been the victim of race-based harassment or hate crime?
Yes. It's the price you pay for being exotic :). I was called ‘COVID’ a few times on the street at the beginning of the pandemic. People have waved their hands at me in a ‘shoo’ gesture on the street, or have crossed to the other side of the street when I walk towards them.
There have been a few incidents that happen to friends I know. I have one friend who worked as a waiter. One night, the lady she was serving kept harassing her, continually asking “did you wash your hands before serving me my food?”
When I encounter someone who is discriminatory, I try to keep myself from becoming like that person. I don’t see the point of being angry at them. I just think they're ignorant, and that makes me sad. I recognize that I can't control or change them, so I focus on being a better human being myself.
Have you noticed any changes in the way folks treat you as an Asian Canadian?
I'm lucky to be surrounded by people who like me. My close friends don’t continually dote on me asking how I’m doing, if I’m okay, and I like that. They don’t treat me differently because of my race. I feel I’m just like them. And I know if something horrible were to happen, like if I were to be assaulted or spat on, they’ll be there for me. I would never define myself as a victim and I wouldn't want my friends to see me as one. I cannot let ignorant people affect how I define myself. I am just as human as anyone.
What would you like folks outside of your culture to know about the Asian Canadian experience?
I recently listened to an interview by Global News with Adrienne Clarkson on anti-immigrant hate. There was a moment in the interview which I found incredibly moving where Mrs. Clarkson said, “People do not necessarily love each other. ‘All you need is love?’ I don’t believe that. All you need is for people to understand that you are a human being and they are a human being. You may not like them, but they have every right to life in this country as you do.”
I thought it was profound. You don't have to like me, but I have every right to be treated as a human being. ‘We all have to love each other’ is often seen as the solution to racism, but she suggests the opposite. I’m quite touched by her words. Even with people who are discriminatory, I recognize them as a human being just as I am.
For example, I don't use that I am writing the paycheques of my employees as justification to treat them as if I owned them. I am tough, firm, and difficult as a boss, but I don't think I am better than those who work for me. I respect them as individual human beings.
The worst kind of discrimination to occur in history, for me, was slavery, where people were literally treated as property. 500 years later and we are still struggling with the same problems from back then. I’m grateful the media is bringing these issues to the public. We don’t need to be treated differently on account of our skin color or our mental health. All we need is the same respect that would be given to anyone else.