Joseph Wong: Paving the way to peace and jus­tice BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSCANADA - By LI NA in Toronto re­nali@chi­nadai­

Oc­to­ber was a busy month for Dr Joseph Wong, as he was fight­ing down to the wire to help the can­di­dates he sup­ported in the On­tario mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

He was also in high gear pre­par­ing for an an­nual fundrais­ing din­ner in Novem­ber for the As­so­ci­a­tion for Learn­ing and Pre­serv­ing the His­tory of WWII in Asia (AL­PHA), an or­ga­ni­za­tion he founded whose mis­sion is to bring the teach­ing of World War II his­tory into the class­rooms of On­tario and Canada, and the whole world.

He also ded­i­cates his time to the Yee Hong Cen­tre for Geri­atric Care, which he founded in 1994 to serve Chi­nese se­niors.

To­day, Yee Hong is the largest non-profit geri­atric care cen­ter in North Amer­ica, serv­ing 2,000 se­niors liv­ing un­der its roof, and thou­sands more through com­mu­nity-based ser­vice pro­grams. It has been rec­og­nized as a top or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fer­ing ex­em­plary care to se­niors not only of the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, but also of the South Asian, Filipino and Ja­panese com­mu­ni­ties.

Dur­ing most of the week, his “real job” is car­ing for his pa­tients as a fam­ily physi­cian, some­thing he’s been do­ing for more than 30 years in Toronto.

Asked what all his ac­tiv­i­ties have in common, his an­swer is firm and clear. “It’s all about the pur­suit of peace, jus­tice, re­spect and un­der­stand­ing, as a global cit­i­zen,” he said, a pur­suit that comes with the vi­sion to over­come the bar­ri­ers of time, space, race or prej­u­dice.

Wong said he doesn’t be­long to any po­lit­i­cal party, but he will­ingly sup­ports any­one who has abil­ity, in­tegrity and courage. He ad­mit­ted that he has been putting off the idea of step­ping into the po­lit­i­cal arena him­self, as he has been fully oc­cu­pied with the causes he finds mean­ing­ful.

But, he added with a smile, “Never say never.”

For now and at least the next few years, AL­PHA will be his pri­mary fo­cus, he said.

Wong’s vi­sion for AL­PHA took root back in his col­lege days in the 1970s when sev­eral ex­pe­ri­ences made a deep im­pres­sion on his life.

While study­ing at Al­bert Ein­stein Col­lege of Medicine in New York, a Jewish in­sti­tu­tion, he wit­nessed how the Jewish com­mu­nity came to­gether to en­sure that the hor­rors of the Holo­caust would never hap­pen again to any­one any­where in the world. He was in­spired by their pas­sion, ac­tion and per­sis­tence in ad­dress­ing crim­i­nal acts in his­tory so that the world would never for­get.

Prior to that, col­lege life at McGill Univer­sity had been rather shel­tered, as he was so im­mersed in his stud­ies and stayed on cam­pus most of the time.

After re­turn­ing to Canada from med­i­cal school in New York, he opened a clinic in Chi­na­town.

His eyes were opened to the deep re­spect Cana­di­ans showed their vet­er­ans, how im­por­tant it was for them to rec­og­nize the sac­ri­fices sol­diers made for their coun­try and honor the mem­ory of Cana­di­ans who had per­ished through the atroc­i­ties of WWII.

That’s when his own re­al­iza­tion came to him.

“What struck me was that Asian lives had been val­ued so cheaply com­pared to those of the West. When peo­ple died in the West, they were re­mem­bered be­cause they sac­ri­ficed their lives pro­tect­ing val­ues such as free­dom and democ­racy. Yet the mil­lions that died in Asia seemed to have been for­got­ten in the nar­ra­tives pur­veyed in WWII his­tory.

“My vi­sion is that we need to re­mem­ber th­ese atroc­i­ties so that even­tu­ally peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion will pre­vail in Asia,” he said. “I ad­vo­cate that we look at the his­tory through the lens of a global cit­i­zen yearn­ing for peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, with­out re­course to ha­tred or blame.”

Such a vi­sion came to fruition in 1997, the 60th an­niver­sary of the Nan­jing Mas­sacre, when he founded AL­PHA with a group of vol­un­teers. Their man­date was to foster ed­u­ca­tion and racial har­mony with a fo­cus on pro­mot­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted dur­ing WWII in Asia. The ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive was to bring about peace to the trou­bled re­gion.

“I be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion and knowl­edge are the foun­da­tion of peace,” said Wong. “What we hope to achieve is to bring greater aware­ness of the his­tory and the facts, so that the truth can be brought to the sur­face rather than be­ing swept un­der the rug of ig­no­rance. Such gross in­jus­tices should not be tol­er­ated and it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity, as mem­bers of hu­man­ity, to rec­og­nize this.”

Over the past decade, AL­PHA has had an im­pact in Toronto, across Canada, even in Asia and around the world.

Some of its mile­stones in­clude or­ga­niz­ing an an­nual Peace and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Study Tour to China and other parts of Asia for ed­u­ca­tors from Canada, now in its 10th year.

In 2007, AL­PHA suc­cess­fully lob­bied the Cana­dian Par­lia­ment to pass a mo­tion con­demn­ing Ja­pan for re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge the facts of mil­i­tary sex­ual slav­ery “com­fort women” dur­ing WWII. In that same year, APLHA also pro­duced a docu­d­rama about Iris Chang and the Rape of Nank­ing.

Th­ese events gave the im­pe­tus needed for Toronto Dis­trict School Board, the largest school board in Canada, to pass a mo­tion in 2008 urg­ing all schools in Toronto to teach the his­tory of the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army, the Nank­ing Mas­sacre and “com­fort women”.

To­day, AL­PHA is work­ing with all the school boards in GTA, pub­lish­ing teach­ing guides for ed­u­ca­tors and or­ga­niz­ing con­fer­ences for stu­dents about the Asia-Pa­cific War.

AL­PHA also spread to other parts of Canada, with the es­tab­lish­ment of lo­cal chap­ters in Bri­tish Columbia, Ed­mon­ton and Ot­tawa. In 2011, a Univer­sity of Toronto AL­PHA chap­ter was also founded.

“What has been a nice sur­prise is the in­ter­est and en­thu­si­asm of na­tive born Chi­nese Cana­di­ans, univer­sity stu­dents, and even non-Chi­nese Cana­di­ans in learn­ing about this part of his­tory,” said Wong.

“On the other hand, I was taken aback by the lack of in­ter­est or support among the older gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese who had ex­pe­ri­enced firstor sec­ond-hand such his­tor­i­cal episodes,” he said.

Be­ing a man of hope, he be­lieves all the more that the work of AL­PHA will in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese to look at th­ese atroc­i­ties from a global cit­i­zen­ship per­spec­tive, and grow up to be ad­vo­cates for so­cial jus­tice and peace.

What does “peace” re­ally mean to him, per­son­ally?

“Peace is un­der­stand­ing, re­spect and har­mony be­tween hu­man be­ings,” he said.


Dr Joseph Wong, founder and chair of Toronto AL­PHA, speaks at the AL­PHA 2014 Fundrais­ing Gala held on Nov 2 in Rich­mond Hill. He says that now he is more aware of so­cial in­jus­tices around the world.

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