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Silent no longer Part 1: Embracing a moment to combat racism in Innisfail

Tasha Busch commits to a just cause for her beloved town

INNISFAIL - It was just a few hours before the start of the town’s highly publicized and controversial anti-racism rally last June 13 when Tasha Busch had a moment of clarity.

Like many other Innisfailians she was concerned the event, which had attracted national attention and was initially themed around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, might end up being torn apart by warring parties from both ends of the political spectrum.

However, she thought about Brittany Bovey, the young local university graduate, who initiated the rally out of love and respect for the plight of visible minorities but was savagely bullied with online threats. With the support of the town and local RCMP she courageously carried on with the rally, which had a change in theme to recognize the challenges facing all visible minorities.

“That moment was when I decided to get over myself and it actually ended up not being scary,” said Busch. “I decided to support this young lady who has been pretty much threatened and harassed just because she wanted to support an important cause.

“I was there to represent Innisfail and there were people there that did support this,” she added. “I was going to go no matter who came, and support that in this town there is inclusivity, and love and support for this in Innisfail.”

First generation Chinese-Canadian

Busch is a 40-year-old proud first generation Chinese-Canadian. She was born and raised in Vancouver, and moved to Innisfail in 2009 with her Caucasian husband Tim.

A former television journalist with a university degree, Busch now works in sales and marketing for a regional auto finance company. While she has supported community causes in the past, most recently Innisfail’s Dementia Friendly Initiative, she prefers to be in the background, away from the media glare she once embraced.

However, the anti-racism rally changed that. Busch is now a member of the town’s rejuvenated Welcoming & Inclusive Community Committee that is addressing racism in the community. She also wants to tell her personal story about racism.

Her parents immigrated to Canada; her mother from a previously war torn southern China when she was six, and her father from Hong Kong when he was 16.

“They weren’t rich Asians that came over, which happens now in Vancouver,” she said laughing. “They were the typical immigrant story seeking a better life here.”

Busch said her parents experienced racism right from the start. Her father once told her about being viciously heckled in Calgary’s Chinatown with an Asian co-worker.

“I would say my dad and my mom experienced more of that than I did growing up for sure,” she said, adding she still heard stereotypical comments. “There’s always jokes, no matter what race you are. Friends would sometimes say, ‘Oh, you are really not Asian.’ But you kind of are. Yes, I was raised here. I don’t have an accent.

“I remember as a kid somebody would use the term Chink, and I would go, ‘Oh’, because it catches you off guard. You know growing up that is a horrible word. It is like saying the N-word. I would say I have seen it more towards my dad.”

People “talking negatively”

As far as encountering racist situations in Vancouver with its large Asian population it was mostly ones with people “talking negatively” about the culture and race in general.

“And you are standing there and they would be like, ‘well, you are not really Chinese.’ Sometime I’d say, ‘what do you mean by that? I actually am.’ When they reference that they kind of reference those who were not born there.

“But I have not had one where I felt scared or uncomfortable and I think I am lucky that way. I felt hurt for other people I know, whether it was my grandmother who was pushed one time getting off the bus, and they said something really negative to her, and my dad’s experiences, as well as my uncles. I think it is a lot harder for those that immigrate here, and are new Canadians.”

When Busch moved to Innisfail to be with Tim in 2009, there was initial worry citizens would not be as open-minded as most were in Vancouver. She was suddenly away from a world-class progressive west coast city and into a small staunchly conservative rural Alberta town. She was also in an interracial marriage. Busch knew the diversity factor was not like anything she experienced growing up. Even her Caucasians friends who came to visit her questioned the move, concerned about the challenges that lay ahead.

Innisfail very inviting

“Is it going to be difficult? It really wasn’t. Maybe I’m lucky as I have been surrounded by great people in Innisfail,” she said. “I feel like Innisfail is very inviting and people are great.”

During her entire time in Innisfail Busch said she has never experienced an incident of direct or even indirect racism. However, she admits sometimes there were “weird” looks, but none hostile or demeaning.

“Does it mean it is a racist stare? No. I am not going to say that but if you grow up as a visible minority you are used to a certain look,” she said. “It’s like walking into a room and being the only white person. You just know that feeling. But no one is being rude. No one is saying anything, or putting you out.”

Nevertheless, Busch is still propelled to move forward with a mission from her newfound commitment with the Welcoming committee and the inspiration she gained from the June 13 rally.

“Yes, the BLM rally in Innisfail stirred up a feeling in me that made me feel like racism is still very rampant around us, not just in Innisfail but everywhere in the world,” said Busch, a huge supporter of the BLM movement as she believes it’s a progressive vehicle for positive change as it promotes awareness, and inspires citizens to have badly needed conversations about racism in general, not just BLM.

“If the BLM movement can stir up so much anger in people and communities it's obvious work needs to be done - racism is still alive and well.

“I was never naive to think racism didn't exist because it does, but we all have different experiences with it and we all can open our ears and listen, learn and be kind,” she said, adding she is still a proud Innisfailian living in a “wonderful community with wonderful people.

“What the BLM rally taught me is that conversations need to be had, and it's good to talk about it,” she added. “We need more discussion and education on diverse cultures, and most importantly we need more empathy.”