The pandemic jolted everyone’s lives like no one could have imagined, but it hit the Asian community especially hard – both figuratively and literally. Suddenly, just walking down the street in broad daylight became dangerous. Asians like myself have been randomly assaulted because of the shape of our eyes, because our ancestors moved here for a better life 170 years ago, because we walked down the street as if we belonged here. How dare we?
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This past year, there has been a dramatic spike in violent incidents against those of Asian ethnicity. Asians have been punched, shoved, beaten, spat at and even murdered. We have been called “ch–ks” and told to “go back to China” – despite that many of us were born here in Toronto and other parts of Canada, and that some of us aren’t of Chinese descent. Not to mention, of course, that those committing these acts of violence against us are immigrants themselves.
Of course, anti-Asian racism is nothing new. It’s been around since the 1800s, but it’s often subtle – the pandemic has just brought it to light. We Asians have always been on the receiving end of casual racism and microaggressions: whenever an Asian woman was or is depicted as a sexual object in a film, or an Asian man as a geek or a nerd, whenever an Asian character was played by a white actor, whenever jokes were made about the size of Asian men’s penises or for having a certain propensity for math, etc. All of these things have been deemed socially acceptable.
In the corporate world, it plays out as the “bamboo ceiling” – a term that refers to the limitations and discrimination experienced by many Asian people professionally. Meanwhile, in the dating world, Asian women are frequently asked degrading questions, while Asian men are constantly told, “I don’t date Asians.” This is 2021. It’s utterly disgusting.
Alike was Born
It’s with regard to this last example involving dating that I saw an opportunity to create change. In an effort to help combat anti-Asian racism, and create a safe space for Asians who are looking for love, I decided to build a dating platform which specifically caters to the Asian experience and celebrates all of its complexities and nuances. It’s called Alike, and it’s a video dating app that celebrates Asian identity, culture and pride. It does so by allowing users to tell their own story through video and Asian-centric prompts such as “What I love about being Asian is…”, “The best noodle soup is without doubt…”, or “My Asian role model is…”
The platform is video-based which helps battle negative stereotypes, and highlights one’s true personality and identity. We believe one’s story is embedded in their entire being – the way they talk, the way they move, the way they laugh and more. It should also be noted that while most users of Alike are of Asian ethnicity, anyone can create a profile. The only requirement is to be respectful of others and to honour the purpose and spirit upon which the app was made.
The app also helps users in their journey to self-love – I know it certainly has for me. You see, one of the most dire consequences of anti-Asian racism has been that many of us “drank the Kool-Aid”, so to speak. That is – we have internalized this hatred and, as a result, we have been deeply hurt. This app isn’t about helping Asians “hook up”. It’s about healing. It’s about recognizing that the Asian diaspora is on a journey to heal from generations of ancestral trauma and internalized racism. Through Alike, we’re empowering Asians to tell their stories and – through that process – find self-acceptance, dignity and love. It’s time we start to love ourselves.
Dating During the Pandemic
The demand for this app – and for this safe space – is clear. We launched the beta version of Alike out of Ryerson University’s iBoost during the pandemic in December 2020 – and had more than 700 downloads in just one week. For the first time, members of the Asian community across Canada and the United States were connecting with those who were on the same journey, finding a community of people who shared their experiences and their stories.
In fact, it was during this first week that one of our initial matches was made: A woman in Toronto connected with a gent in L.A. They’ve been in touch ever since – and are patiently waiting for the borders to open so they can meet in person.
The app is currently available by invitation as we’re still in the beta stage and rolling out new features one at a time. The full release is expected late this summer. For those who would like to join the beta version, please use the invitation code “VIEWTHEVIBE” and download the app from the App Store or Google Play.
Become an Ally
To all of the non-Asians reading this, while the Asian community heals and we learn to love ourselves, I ask that you become an ally. Anti-Asian racism affects not just the Asian community, but all of us. And it is often so subtle, so casual, often seeming deceptively innocent. But it isn’t. Acknowledging anti-Asian racism is the first step toward change. Please check-in with your Asian friends and colleagues and offer support. Help spread awareness. And if you witness racism or violence toward Asians, please speak out, step in, and stand up for us – your neighbours and fellow Canadians.