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Why Give | Impact stories

Two decades on from a founding gift, donors continue to center the voices of Asian Canadian communities

UBC’s new Centre for Asian Canadian Research and Engagement had its origins twenty years ago—and its founding demonstrates the continuing potential that philanthropy has to shape a thriving society.

Dr. JP Catungal and Dr. Henry Yu lead UBC’s Centre for Asian Canadian Research and Engagement (ACRE). Just over a year old, it builds on a history of UBC students working in ethical, community-based work with Asian Canadian communities. The roots of ACRE extend back to an act of generosity from donors nearly twenty years ago—and its founding demonstrates the role that donors can continue to play in combatting anti-Asian racism.

In the fall of 2003, Dr. Yu, a UBC history alum (BA’89), returned as a newly hired professor to teach Asian migration history. He was connected with Chinese Canadian donors who wanted to involve students in meaningful community projects. This led to the creation of the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC), and to ACRE’s creation nearly twenty years later.

Founded in March 2022 with a significant gift—that was inspired by UBC’s groundbreaking National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism—ACRE seeks to dismantle the traditional paradigm of colonial knowledge production. As co-leads, Dr. Catungal and Dr. Yu strive for a community-oriented approach with ACRE. Using ethical and culturally appropriate ways, ACRE aims to build trust with marginalized communities in Canada, especially those that have experienced historical exclusion and racism.

ACRE’s team proactively ventures into communities, using UBC’s resources to meet people where they live and work. By collaborating with cultural, civic, and non-profit organizations throughout Metro Vancouver, ACRE creates partnerships that counter anti-Asian racism and promote the success of Asian Canadians.

ACRE encourages students to work respectfully with Asian Canadian communities. This is achieved through programs like INSTRCC and UBC’s Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies (ACAM) minor program—which provide students with opportunities to collaborate with community partners to address their needs.

Building relationships “based on trust and mutually determined outcomes and goals” is key, says Dr. Yu. So too, is “being on the ground, doing work, showing up in supporting what’s important for our communities,” says Dr. Catungal.

By cultivating these relationships with cultural and heritage organizations, ACRE encourages student-led collaborations that expand Asian Canadian representation in cultural spaces. These partnerships allow students to reimagine and reinterpret history, making sure Asian Canadian stories are told authentically.

The effect of ACRE’s work is evident through alumni like Christina Lee. Her work at the hua foundation, an organization empowering Asian youth in Vancouver’s Chinatown, demonstrates the impact of community-centered research.

Inspired by ACAM’s community-centered approach, Lee conducted interviews in Cantonese and Mandarin to ensure the voices of business owners were accurately recorded.

“I think that we got better answers because of that,” reflects Lee, “because we centered their trust and their vulnerability.”

Thanks to Dr. Yu meeting with donors from the Chinese Canadian community twenty years ago, ACRE is on the way to driving social change.

By centring the experiences of Asian Canadian communities and engaging students in meaningful projects, ACRE helps counter anti-Asian racism, to create a just and thriving society.

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