What Does Heritage Mean to You?

Dr. Cen Huang reflects as we celebrate Asian Heritage Month.


There’s a Chinese saying that goes, “It takes ten years to grow a tree, but a hundred years to educate a people (十年树木,百年树人).” The expression resonates with me. I view education as such a dynamic pursuit, both personally and academically. It is one of the reasons that I enjoy working in higher education and observing the journeys of the students, professors, and staff that come to U of A from all over the world. 

Our university is a collection of many heritages. As a person of Chinese descent, I want to take the opportunity during Asian Heritage Month to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of heritage, and how it impacts us all.

What does a person’s heritage mean? How does it define who you are and what you become? What does your heritage mean to others? How does it contribute to the Canadian multicultural landscape? These are questions that we can all ask ourselves to reflect on during Asian Heritage Month. 

Heritage encompasses many things. It’s about our ethnic roots, of course, but it also includes cultural teachings and personal experiences. It’s about who you are and where you have come from to get to where you are today. 

For me, my heritage has shaped my values, my personality, my goals, and much more. Everywhere I have gone in life, I have taken my heritage with me. And I don’t mean only in terms of physical travel, but also in my personal journeys.

As an international student, I studied in the UK, Canada, and the Netherlands. Now, as an Asian Canadian and a university administrator, I look back and see how much my heritage has shaped those experiences and made me the person that I am today. 

The Chinese culture has strong educational values that emphasize learning and hard work. I see these as an important complement to the Canadian educational values that emphasize students’ independence, choice, and critical and creative thinking. I think it’s critical for various perspectives to be considered and explored during one’s life experiences -- if we can learn from each other’s values, then we can work towards a global worldview that will enrich our local and international communities. 

As we reflect on the meaning of heritage, I will share that I believe that one’s heritage is truly something to be treasured. We share our heritage and customs with many others, but it impacts each one of us in unique ways. You carry it with you throughout life and it is something to be celebrated and cherished. This month, I hope that all Asian and Asian Canadians will embrace their heritage and share it with others. I also hope that we can all celebrate Asian Canadians and their contributions to our campuses, our city, our province, and country. 

As we celebrate, another Chinese saying comes to mind: “For any three persons walking together, I am bound to be able to find teachers among them (三人行,必有我师).” It means that a modest learner shall learn from everyone around them. To me, this is a major aspect of higher education and the vibrant learning community that is created through the diversity at U of A.

I want to thank everyone who has joined us in celebrating this month. As we reflect and celebrate our Asian and other diverse heritages at U of A, it is our duty to work with the university and larger community to condemn any forms of racial discrimination and anti Asian-Hate crimes. When we work together to stand up against racism, we can make a difference.


Dr. Cen Huang is Vice Provost and Associate Vice President (International) at the U of A, where she spearheads innovation and collaboration with faculties and partners with regards to international initiatives and activities.