I remembered Yoshihiro Hattori when I first read about the murder of Trayvon Martin this past March. Yoshihiro was a 16-year old Japanese exchange student who was fatally shot by a man in 1992 when he had knocked on his door in search of directions to a Halloween party. Upon his arrest, the killer Rodney Peairs claimed that he was only ‘defending’ his home from the ‘intruder’ who was ‘was acting in a menacing, aggressive fashion…like a stranger invading someone’s home turf”.
While there was indeed a brief moral panic over Yoshihiro’s death in American and Japanese news broadcasts during the months following his murder, news cycle frenzy began to die down and soon enough everyone just forgot.
Yoshihiro’s murder isn’t a special case.
Rather he joins the numbers of other murdered international students of colour like 23-year-old York University student Qian Liu, 21-year old Coquitlam College student Amanda Zhao Wei and 33-year old Concordia student Jun Lin.
The murders of these three international students of colour is no coincidence, but rather their murders are symptomatic of a culture and society that just does not value things like social investment, protection, and accountability, especially when it comes to the murders of people of colour.
At the moment, the murders of international students of colour is receiving massive signal boosts within our news feed cycles. While often narrated by horror, fascination, disgust and sensationalism, these fast fix news stories often leave out how factors like race play a part in the murders of international students of colour.
In earlier eras, imagery of racist brutality and war atrocities moved nations to act and to change domestic and foreign policy in the interests of global justice. These contemporary images of the murders of people like Yoshihiro, Qian, Jun and Amanda moved all of us with collective outrage, but only, it seems, for a short time.
Where is this collective outrage today?
Having observed the ongoing discussions of Jun Lin’s recent murder unfold both on internet forums, the blogosphere and on livestream TV channels like CP24, a recurrent comment that I find to be particularly disturbing and the point of contention for this post is when people are documented as saying that Jun’s murder doesn’t matter because it was a ‘random, rare, freak incident’, and that one horrific incident shouldn’t tarnish the image of abundant safety in Canada.
Incidentally, Jun’s murder was neither random, nor was it rare and it has everything to do with how a person of colour goes about their daily survival in a country like Canada.
Like the murders of Amanda and Qian, Jun’s murder should be seen in the broader context of a deeply racist, colonial nation that has historically and continues to see people of colour as a resource to be exploited, mined and pillaged in as many ways as possible. While many would be quick to dismiss this very real truth about this attitude of Canada towards people of colour and Indigenous people as “hate” and even sometimes as “reverse racism,” Blogger Zuky notes that those who call every mild criticism “hate” are likely those who have never been on the receiving end of real hate, visceral hate, encompassing hate, normalized hate or legally violent and institutionalized hate. Zuky adds that, these same critics who complain about “the race card” tend to think “hate” is a blip of individual feeling rather than as a pervasive network of mutually-supporting destructive forces whose scaffolding is built right into their psyches.
In fact, it is remarkable to note that Canada is the very same nation that simultaneously woos and lures international students to Canadian institutions but suddenly gets grumpy when those same international students want to extend their stay in Canada and live with us on the basis of equality. According to this sticky thread of logic then, international students of colour can never really belong in Canada since any form of belonging or entitlement to safety, accountability and protection is racialized to exclude them and is a time-limited session to boot!
York University, a campus which has a notorious reputation for ongoing sexual assaults, murders, rapes and robberies that university administration has not yet done enough to combat, is a peculiar case when it comes to the safety of international students of colour.
Curious about the kinds of support and services that York offers to its international students, I heard through word of mouth that York International, the department responsible for York’s international students provided information sessions throughout the year on how to do a job search and improve student writing skills. But upon consulting the actual York International website myself , I found no information or links related to safety issues encountered by international students, which is odd as Qian Liu did just get murdered at York a little over a year ago…
Having noticed how the public dissection of Jun Lin’s killer’s personal life grabbed more attention than Jun’s horrific end, another important thing that becomes explicitly clear is just how reluctant certain media broadcasters become when telling the Canadian public about the precarious living situations of these international students. And of course, how could they not be reluctant when international students, particularly those from China (as of 2011, students migrating from China made up 52.7% of the number of international students coming to Canada to study at Canadian universities and colleges) are some of the biggest sources of cash for Canadian universities and colleges who otherwise have to struggle to acquire funds from the provinces, former students and private donors.
As noted in the demography.matters.blog, every year receiving countries of international students like Canada eagerly take advantage of international students as sources of additional income in light of funding cutbacks at colleges and universities by charging international students fees that are many times higher than those charged to students who are Canadian citizens. Since most provinces have deregulated tuition fees, post-secondary institutions can charge international students more than three times the fees Canadian students pay!
Not only are the fees for tuition, living costs, insurance, meal plans and travel costs much higher than what a domestic student can expect, but an unspoken knowledge as to why acquiring an international student is such a campus recruiter’s wet dream is the notion that showing off students of racialized backgrounds in academic departments makes a university both look and feel good about themselves. So as an international student of colour, while you may or may not receive the financial support from Canada once your funds from your home country start dwindling away and while the upkeep of your personal safety is rarely ever a guarantee, rest assured that your skin colour is making your chosen university look marketable and progressively-chic.
How this all relates back to Jun Lin is that despite being a lucrative resource for Concordia University and Canada by extension, he ended up paying the most horrific price of all with his life. While Jun’s killer was captured relatively quickly because of the public panic over how Jun met his gruesome death, it is hard not to deduce that as an international student, Jun was disposable.
In his essay about the political and social aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Henry Giroux says that to be considered a disposable person means having no institutional support and being left to fend for yourself. It can be said that the living situation of international students who come to study in Canada is indeed a situation where they are literally left to fend for themselves and their safety. Nevertheless, Giroux adds that not only do these disposable peoples have to fend for themselves in the face of life’s tragedies but are also supposed to do it without being seen by the dominant society.
These disposable people were Jun Lin.
They were also Yoshihiro Hattori, Amanda Zhao Wei and Qian Liu.
The case could even be made that because Jun Lin was not a Canadian citizen and only temporarily here for his studies, it would have been easier for folks to look the other way, had Jun not been murdered in such a gory way. While there are specific legal implications in place between sender nations of international students that receiving nations of international students have to account for when an international student dies on their shores, there is no excuse for why there aren’t established safety measures in places to protect international students from violence while they are in Canada.
Having said this, I believe it becomes obvious that if international students are the ones funding the public image and bank balances of Canadian universities and colleges, they deserve safety, protection and accountability. They deserve the same care and respect as a domestic university/college student and thorough community safety measures in place to ensure that their stay in Canada, however long that be, is carried out in a safe space.
Jun, Qian, Amanda and Yoshihiro died because they were all rendered invisible by their student communities and seen as disposable goods by their post-secondary institutions. Their deaths should remind us both the difficult day-to-day struggles of surviving as a person of colour in a white supremacist society and culture and of the need for us to care and look out for one another.
So if you are reading this as an international student, know that the onus of safety should not be on you alone. If you are reading this as a friend, acquaintance, family member or colleague of an international student, proactively seek out ways you can support, care for and cherish them.
Lastly, the demography.matters blog posted a formal apology by Canadian college, Hamilton Mohawk College to the chinese community in Hamilton following the news cycle introduction of Jun Lin’s death. If anything, this non-apology apology is worth a definite eye-roll. Enjoy!
“Please believe [us], Canada is a country with good public security protection. Canadians are very friendly. This individual case is not big enough to influence the trust between people of China and Canada… [it’s a] country worth of the trust of foreign students and parents.”