Notes From the Archive: On the Current Crisis…

In writing this update, there is a compulsion to write about the times we’re living through together. This would not be unusual for us, this newsletter often works to connect present moments to the past through materials posted in the Rise Up Archive. At the same time, there is something that feels too strange, too new, and too enormous to write about…or to write about just yet. 
When we came across materials that addressed the challenges faced by immigrant communities and new Canadians during the SARS crisis, however, we knew we should share them. There are several issues of the Domestics’ Cross-Cultural News from 2003 that provide stories, information, and updates about living through SARS, and they mirror in many ways some of the concerns and issues of the current crisis.
The Domestics Cross Cultural News was the newsletter of INTERCEDE for the Rights of Domestic Workers, Caregivers, and Newcomers. From the time of their founding through to their merging into the Toronto Working Women’s Community Centre in 2011, INTERCEDE engaged in a range of campaigns to provide support to foreign domestic workers coming to Canada, including establishing paths to citizenship and improving employment standards and working conditions.
The cover story of the June 2003 newsletter, for example, includes an update on how to avoid transmission including frequent hand washing and isolation. And the May 2003 newsletter includes a column called Coco’s Corner which incorporated stories of “the effect of SARS on Caregivers,” including the following:

 “My employer did not want me to spend my days off at an apartment which I share with other Filipino nannies. She assumed that I would surely go to Asian stores to buy groceries and that I’d be exposed to or contract the SARS virus. Consequently, she terminated me without notice. To top it all, my employer even wrote degrading and unfavourable remarks and lies in my Record of Employment.” (DCCN, May 2003)

The racism that occurred during the time of SARS has been occurring once again. Since January there have been numerous reports of xenophobia and racism online in addition to in-person harassment. And racist concerns about the virus have led to people staying away from Asian businesses even before everything shut down, ensuring that Chinese communities across Canada will be particularly hard-hit by the economic aftermath of COVID-19.

In an article for the CBC published at the beginning of February, Rosemary Barton addressed the lessons learned about racism, hate, and scapegoating from the SARS crisis, and what it means for Canadians as they struggle with the consequences of the pandemic. She wrote, “We’re probably better prepared for the coronavirus now than we would have been without the SARS experience. But that experience also warned us that disease outbreaks can tear at our communities in ways vaccines can’t touch.”

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