May is Asian Heritage Month, and in celebration, we want to recognize the amazing contributions and achievements of people of Asian and South Asian descent. Each May is an opportunity to highlight, and be inspired by, the strength and resilience of Asian Canadians. This year, the Canadian government’s theme for 2023 Asian Heritage Month is “Stories of Determination.” We’ve compiled a list of Asian-Canadian entrepreneurs, artists, writers, chefs, and more, whose stories have made and continue to make, a lasting impact on their community, city, province, country, and the world.
Photo provided by Brigitte Truong
Scrolling through Brigitte Truong’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll understand that this is a woman of many talents, backed with years of experience. Truong’s work in entertainment, including Reporter, VJ, Host, Anchor, Camera Operator, Writer, Producer, Founder and more, is why she’s the go-to individual for all that’s life, style, and entertainment. Currently, host of USA TODAY Sister Cities – a series that bridges the gap between America and China, and reminds the viewer that, despite the distance, human connection prevails at uniting us as one. Despite her success, Truong knows that being a woman comes with challenges, which is why “we can all use a homegirl to lean on.” She is host of Homegirl Nation, a weekly podcast that meets with courageous female guests who seek to break barriers and glass ceilings. Episodes explore candid topics relating to womanhood, such as business accomplishments and failures, mental health, sex, hate crimes and more.
Photo provided by Nina Kharey
During the pandemic, designer and engineer, Nina Kharey, noticed an issue with the scrubs that healthcare professionals were wearing. As healthcare workers were sent into the frontline, Kharey grew concerned that the scrubs on the market were both poorly designed and made from materials that offered little to no protection. Kharey founded Folds Wear Inc., a techwear company using technology and design to create recyclable and functional scrubs. The scrubs use nanotechnology to provide protection, and are part of a circular economy, promoting the recycling of clothing to help reduce the obstructive environmental impacts on the garment industry. To learn more about Kharey’s thoughts on the environmental impact of the garment industry and her contributions towards a sustainable clothing industry, watch Kharey’s TedX.
Photo by Reel Asian International Film Festival
One of Canada’s first Chinese-Canadian filmmakers, Keith Lock has been writing and directing films since the ’60s. Lock’s experimental documentary, Everything Everywhere Again Alive (1975), is considered a “landmark work of Canadian underground cinema” and was named part of “100 Best Canadian Films of All Time” in 2020. His work has been presented at TIFF, and he’s received multiple accolades, including a Gemini Award Nomination for Best Short Drama (1987), Chinese Canadian National Council’s Media Applause Award (1998), Best GTA Filmmaker Award (2005), and winner of the “So You Think You Can Pitch” competition (2011). In 2022, the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival announced Lock as the first 2022 Fire Horse Award recipient, an award presented annually to an Asian-Canadian individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the film and media arts community. In his speech, Lock shared how his experiences of racism and bullying on film sets shaped his work and contributions as a filmmaker. “I was so stressed. But these [encounters] proved to be a turning point because it made me realize I had to address such experiences in my work and films,” said Lock. As a leader, Lock was a founding member and first Chair of the Toronto Filmmaker’s Co-op (now known as LIFT), Canada’s first film co-op. LIFT is an artist-run, charitable organization that is focused on facilitating access to independent filmmakers through education and production resources.
Photo by CTV News
If you watched the dramedy “The Bear” or any show with Gordon Ramsay, you’ve likely spotted a trend of abuse in the back-of-house. David Huynh took note of that abuse within Toronto’s service industry and vowed to put a stop to it. Huynh, the owner of Toronto’s Vietnamese restaurant Vit Beo, found a “disparity between the compensation for and appreciation for cooks versus servers and front-of-house staff.” Since opening in 2018, Huynh has put his chefs front and center at his restaurant, allowing diners to develop a stronger appreciation for the work in the back-of-house. Huynh’s efforts to make changes within the industry is a great compliment to his skill, love, and passion for food. For Huynh, food acts as an emotional bond with his grandmother, who passed away a few years back. Following his grandmother’s love of cooking and memories from his childhood, Huynh is able to connect with the legacy that food passes from person to person and generation to generation.
Photo by Carey Shaw
Zarqa Nawaz is a film and TV writer, producer, journalist, author, and public speaker living in Regina, Saskatchewan. You may know Nawaz from her beloved TV series, Little Mosque on the Prairie, the world’s first sitcom about a Muslim community living in the West. It was an international success, receiving awards, such as Best Television Series for Comedy at the Directors Guild of Canada Awards, and Best International Television Series and Best Screenplay at the Roma Fiction Fest. Her most recent TV endeavour, CBC Gem’s ZARQA, shares the story of a middle-aged Muslim woman who strives to reinvent herself. Outside of Nawaz’s success in television, she’s published her memoir, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque (2014), and her most recent book, Jameela Green Ruins Everything (2022). Whether writing for film, television, or books, Nawaz has “pioneered the art of creating stereotype-defying Muslim characters” as she beautifully shares stories rooted in political and social commentary, never straying from her thought-provoking comedic flair.
Photo by Victoria Walton
If you’re looking for something truly tasty, Truly Tasty, Halifax’s longest-running ramen shop, is a must-try. When Shanshan Liu and Jian Li opened Truly Tasty in 2012, they were the first ramen noodle restaurant in the city of Halifax. This acts not only as a milestone for the city but one that Liu and Li can remain proud of as they “make the standard of the ramen in Halifax higher.” Both alumni of Saint Mary’s University with commerce degrees, Liu focuses on the business side while Li’s passion and talent for cooking drive the kitchen – allowing them both to tackle all angles of the business together. As Truly Tasty continues to expand, Liu and Li continue to evolve the menu to ensure that the tastes explore both Japan and Halifax. As a nod to the Haligonian palette, from time to time, you may find ‘donair-inspired’ ramen on the menu.
Photo provided by Olivia Ho
The Give and Grow’s Instagram reads, “the more you give, the more you grow.” This quote rings true for many things, whether it’s a hobby, passion, or even a plant. Oliva Ho, the founder of The Give and Grow, combined her passions for community empowerment, sports, and houseplants (literally) to create a women-led initiative centred around one purpose: growth. The Give and Grow host community workshops for women in Toronto, which they like to say is, “planting the seeds for the next generation of youth”. When you purchase one of their basketball planters, a portion of the proceeds goes towards their youth programming. We recommend keeping your eyes peeled for a planter, as they have a tendency to sell out quickly!
Photo provided by Courtney Chew
As a self-described “ocean lover,” Courtney Chew founded OCIN, a lifestyle brand and eco-swim label in her home city, Vancouver. Growing up on the ocean and as a swimmer, she felt most connected to the earth when she was in the water. With our world’s oceans at risk due to climate change, Chew wanted OCIN to act as a vehicle to “raise awareness, shift perspectives, build community, and create global openness.” OCIN’s commitment to the environment is seen through their design (their product is for both in and out of the water to ensure longevity), fabric (100% recycled polyesters from plastic bottles saved from landfill and recycled nylon) and packaging (post-consumer recycled and plant-based materials). On top of that, the OCIN Recycling Program takes back previously loved swimsuits to make sure they’re disposed of properly. For your next water activity, we strongly encourage you to join the OCIN Collective.
Photo provided by Craig Wong, chefcraigwong.com
Although Craig Wong’s style of cooking has been described as “Asian meets Caribbean Soul Food,” his focus is less on geography and more on taste. Wong’s passion for taste landed him in the kitchen at two, three Michelin starred restaurants, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée and The Fat Duck. Wong has tackled various realms of kitchen life as a chef, restaurant owner, and as TV host of Cook Like A Chef. His technique and skills, heavily influenced by his Jamaican-Chinese heritage, are what make his restaurants, Patois and Bar Mignonette, the perfect fit for a city as diverse as Toronto. Outside of his Canadian establishments, Wong acts as the executive chef at Ting Irie, Dubai’s very first Jamaican restaurant.