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Rob Hechler said he never had an opportunity to connect with his Japanese ancestry until coming to UBC.

Mixed-Asian students find new ways to connect with their backgrounds at UBC

Rob Hechler feels more at home in Vancouver, due to the high rates of mixed Asians in the city

By Oscar Beardmore-Gray , in City Feature story , on March 26, 2018 Tags: , , ,

Rob Hechler never thought much about his mixed-race heritage when he was growing up playing ice hockey with his all-white friends in Brandon, Man. That changed when he started studying at the University of British Columbia in 2015.

“I didn’t understand my Asian side before I got here and I feel like my identity has changed a lot. I’m now more aware of my Japanese side which I wasn’t at all before – it was a strange awakening,” Hechler said.

Hechler feels more at home in Vancouver, due to the high rates of mixed Asians in the city. In 2016, over 50 per cent of people in the city identified as a visible minority, according to Statistics Canada.

The city is well-renowned for its Asian diaspora, but less often discussed is its growing mixed-Asian community.

According to Statistics Canada, 18.9 per cent of young Asians in B.C. aged between 15 and 24 had multiple ethnic origins in 2016. For people age 14 and under, the number was even higher – a whopping 32.4 per cent.

The numbers are high enough that this group now gets its own festival in the city.

Jeff Chiba Stearns, an expert in mixed-race identity in B.C. who has made several documentaries on the increase of mixed-Asians in the province, co-founded the Hapa-palooza festival in 2011, to celebrate people of mixed roots in Vancouver. He is focused on fostering a sense of community amongst mixed Asians in the city.

“Vancouver has a diverse mix of people, and that’s why we started Hapa-palooza because there wasn’t anything to fill that need,” he said.

“The festival is about finding like-minded people to have discussions with, and trying to get people aware that we have a mixed community in Vancouver that is growing and is going to keep growing.”

However, for younger mixed-race people from Canada or abroad, university is the place they feel more comfortable expressing and exploring their identities on campus.

Yet, Chiba Stearns finds it strange there isn’t a mixed club at UBC given the high number of mixed Asians at the university, but thinks the institution still offers a space to learn more about one’s own background.

“University is where, as a student, you’re easily influenced and you’re trying to find yourself. I think that’s where a lot of identity searching comes into play,” he said.

UBC has no records about the ethnic backgrounds of its students, but Hechler is one of many mixed Asians at UBC who relate to the phenomenon of identity searching.

“I had never experienced or accounted half-Asian people before – so that was pretty cool to meet other people of similar backgrounds. Half-Asians have a very distinct look – I can spot them very easily now,” said Hechler.

But for this growing population, what is it really like to be a young mixed-Asian in Vancouver? Here are more stories from mixed-Asians at UBC.  

Rob Hechler – German and Japanese from Brandon, Man.

Read his story

Aaron Wilford – America and Korean from Hawaii, U.S.A

Wilford's story

Amy Wong Strilchuk – Chinese and Canadian from Toronto, Ont.

Her university experience

Toby Ashiwa – American and Japanese from Tokyo, Japan

Ashiwa's story

Yasmin Vahedi – Iranian, Indian and Australian from Vancouver, B.C.

Vahedi's experience


Alice Harada – Japanese and British from London, U.K.

Harada's story