Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Asian Canadian 15-year-old fights back against racist schoolyard bully
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Asian Canadian 15-year-old fights back against racist schoolyard bully

If you’ve ever been taunted or attacked by a bully but never fought back, you have to applaud this kid as a hero. A 15-year-old Asian Canadian (the newspaper story by the Globe and Mail never states the kid’s or his family’s name) fought back at a bully and broke his tormentor’s nose, got suspended from school but inspired a walkout of 400 fellow students in support.

The 15-year-old black belt thought he was doing his tormentor a favour when he elected to fight back with his weaker left hand.

He had heard his white classmate throw an angry racial slur in his direction after an argument during a gym class game of speedball, and now the student was shoving him backward, refusing to retract the smear.

The white student swung first, hitting the 15-year-old with a punch to the mouth.

The 15-year-old heard his father’s voice running through his head: Fight only as a last resort, only in self-defence, only if given no choice, and only with the left hand.

His swing was short and compact, a left-handed dart that hit the white student square on the nose.

The nose broke under his fist, igniting a sequence of events – from arrest to suspension to possible expulsion – that has left the Asian student and his family wondering whether they are welcome in this small, rural and mostly white community north of Toronto, one that has been touched by anti-Asian attacks in the past.

The 15-year-old, the only person charged in connection with the April 21 school fight, faces one count of assault causing bodily harm.

This week, 400 students at his high school walked out in protest — even though he is shy and hadn’t made a lot of friends, they supported his defiance of bullying and racism.

The case has led to police reopening the case and possible charges against the bully under hate crime statutes. The bully allegedly called him a “fucking Chinese” before shoving him.

It may not help the bully’s case that a cousin accosted the Asian American student the next day within earshot of a teacher, and said “You punched my cousin you Chinese fuck.” The cousin was suspended on the spot.

The area, north of Toronto, had been plagued in recent years with incidents of hate crimes against Asians, so this kind of ugliness may be just below the surface in the community.

The case is particularly sensitive because of a series of attacks on Asian fishermen in the same area in 2007 – given the name “nipper tipping” by locals – which led to a high-profile investigation by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Five such cases in 2007, ranging from violent car chases to fishermen on piers being pushed into the water, led to criminal charges. As a result of the publicity, many other Asian anglers came forward to say they had been abused or harassed while fishing in the Lake Simcoe area.

I can remember lots of times I bit my tongue growing up, when I was confronted by bullies or racist taunts, partly because I was puny and shy, and partly because I was raised with Asian values of keeping a low profile, not bringing attention myself, and not fighting. I just fluches with anger and shame, looked down at the ground and swallowed the bile.

The one time I flipped out and at a bully in 4th grade, I whipped him with my windbreaker and the zipper pull scratched his face. I can’t remember his name now, but he became friendly to me after that, and never bothered me again.

My race wasn’t an issue in that instance, (at least, I don’t think so… I can’t remember any slurs or anything). The bully in my case was black. For all I know, he had white bullies pushing him around. This was more than 40 years ago. It’s sad and more than a bit disconcerting that the same scene is playing out in school yards today.

I hope the bully does the same thing to this kid in Canada, and becomes a friend instead of a tormenter. Somehow, I doubt it, because of the racial ubdercurrent.