Dr. Gina Ko (she/her) holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership and is a Psychologist in Calgary, Alberta. She teaches in a master of counselling program and a bachelor of education program. She is passionate about teaching courses that pertain to culture, diversity, and practice in counselling. She has a private practice and currently works with many Asian clients (and clients from various walks of life) to hear their stories, generate ideas to cope during this pandemic, manage life transitions, relationship challenges, grief, and more. She is an author and is publishing a book with colleagues about responsive therapeutic relationships to teach counselling skills. She has two children who are passionate about social justice and a spouse who is a teacher.
This podcast aims to generate awareness, foster community, and create transformation by coming together to lean into the inspiring work of anti-racism.
As a Psychologist, the impetus of this podcast started from my work with Asian clients during this pandemic as they have shared with me their experiences of racism growing up and more intensely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have told me stories of feeling like a perpetual foreigner. They get jokes thrown at them, such as "you should be good at math" (an example of model minority myth). They were called a chink when younger, and recently, they were given the term coronavirus. They feel blamed because of where the virus was first discovered and that all Chinese people (and those who look Chinese) caused this pandemic. They are scared for their parents to leave home for groceries because they could be spit on, punched, pushed, and this list goes on.
Upon reflecting more, my desire to speak up and interview guests from Asian and other racialized and minoritized backgrounds started when I was very young. I came to Canada with my family as a refugee from Vietnam when I was two years old. My grandfathers were from China (escaped to Vietnam) and I identify as Chinese Canadian. At the age of 5 years old, my aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and one grandfather slowly came to Canada after my mom helped sponsor them. At that age and the eldest child, I was often the language broker and did language interpretation for my family in Cantonese. This would happen at the mall, doctor’s offices, insurance agencies, car dealerships, hospitals, and many other areas. When I was young, cashiers and salespeople would be rude and dismissive because they did not want to listen to a child explain reasons for returns. As I got older, people would look at me when they speak when they should be looking at my aunts, uncles, and grandmothers. I was initially proud of this and then felt the injustice of my family members being ignored because they did not have proficient English fluency even though they speak 2-3 other languages.
In elementary school, people made fun of my lunch which could consist of sticky rice, Chinese stir fry, and spring rolls. I was taunted, and people moved away from me. After several occasions, I asked my aunt never to pack me Chinese or Vietnamese food again; although I dislike sandwiches, not standing out and blending in was more important than eating the food I love. I was called a chink and shoved on the bus without knowing what that word meant. Although I knew it was hateful. There are many stories like these when I talk with my Asian clients.
As a psychologist, clients have deep trust and respect for me, and I am ready to speak up, give voice and honour their experiences. All around the world, there is anti-Asian racism and hate. Many are even killed because the colour of our skin. The conflation of how the virus originated from Wuhan China and then all Chinese people must have caused the virus is outrageous. Further, those who are not even Chinese (Korean, Japanese, Filipino) are also affected due to racial profiling. The dehumanizing of an entire cultural group is unacceptable, dangerous, and inhumane.
During this same time, the Black Lives Matter and BIPOC movements have come to the fore, with Black, Indigenous, and racialized people more likely to be charged a crime, killed, and incarcerated. This is a systemic problem, and change cannot come soon enough.
In my life, I believe in social action, no matter how big or small. In my early 20s, I was a teacher for Little Red River Cree Nation and learned so much about the Cree culture from my students and families. I learned about residential schools, intergenerational trauma, and resilience. Recently, I attended a vigil in Calgary after George Floyd, Breoanna Taylor, and other Black people were killed. I participate in the Pride parade for many years. I give presentations about how to talk to youth about racism. I attend peaceful protests to join other racialized groups to stand up against racism. For my master’s thesis, I explored Chinese mothers' desires for passing on the Cantonese language to their children. In my Ph.D. research, I worked with six south Asian youth in a photovoice project to understand their experiences in a social justice club at school. They speak up against racism, Islamophobia, stigma of mental health, and believe we all need more kindness. These multiple experiences have me continue to strive for social change with people. Stronger together!