How Asian artists in the GTA bring their cultural identity to their work

May perhaps is Asian Heritage Month. Boldly Asian is a CBC Toronto series shining a light-weight on GTA changemakers who are pushing boundaries within just their Asian Canadian communities and further than.


CBC Toronto spoke with Asian artists across the Bigger Toronto Area about how they embrace their cultural identification in their craft.

Here’s what they shared. 

Cutsleeve rocks to their personal tune

Cutsleeve came alongside one another when Lian McMillan did a callout for LGBTQ POC femmes to begin a rockband. 

The band’s title is from an historical Chinese folklore story referred to as Passions of the Slice Sleeve, Fong points out, which is an euphemism for homosexuality in China. 

“The way that we identified the name also sort of speaks to how we make our tunes,” McMillan explained.

“It can be this weird mismatched way of how we join with our lifestyle and connect with who we are in our identification.” 

The band, which includes Hillary Fong, Chanel Fu, Amanda Wong, and Hannah Winters, writes new music that relates to their ordeals as LGBTQ Asians.

Top row still left to appropriate: Amanda Wong, Hillary Fong, Hannah Winters. Base row left to suitable: Lian McMillan, Chanel Fu. The band writes tunes they hope is relatable to people likely by means of a identical identification struggle. (Submitted by Lian McMillan )

“I consider inherently, all of us have an Asian lens that we see the globe in,” Fu stated. “When we generate about what we have been by way of … our Asianness is sort of deeply ingrained in that.”

Tunes this sort of as Durian Eyes are about navigating their racialized identification as queer East Asians in Canada. McMillan says the song vocalizes the isolated feeling of the diaspora and how they consider to keep on to their cultural identities devoid of becoming stereotyped or fetishized. The group’s music Yellow Fever is an anthem towards the fetishization of Asian tradition. 

The band members say they’ve gotten optimistic suggestions from associates of the Asian diaspora. 

“Men and women will arrive up to us at a present or will [direct message] us on instagram and notify us … ‘Oh, my goodness this track, the lyrics resonated with me so considerably,'” Winters stated. 

Winters says staying in the band and remaining equipped to produce art and categorical themselves has served her solidify her connection with the LGBTQ East Asian family in the metropolis.

From left to proper: Hillary Fong, Hannah Winters, Amanda Wong, Chanel Fu, and Lian McMillan. (Submitted by Lian McMillan)

Michael Chan produces short film ‘The ONLY Asian

When Michael Chan very first commenced acting 15 a long time back, he claims he was usually solid as stereotypical Asian characters. 

“Most of my auditions have been episodes where it was the Chinatown episode or the Japanese episode,” he recalled.

In the performing industry, Chan says Asian people are sometimes viewed less than an umbrella wherever it is assumed they can engage in roles of any ethnic Asian history. 

Michael Chan in the movie ‘Mayday.’ Chan claims throughout the pandemic, he is began self-creating content material wherever he can act in roles far more real to himself. (Submitted by Michael Chan)

“I may possibly be Chinese-Canadian but … when a casting director seems to be at me, it truly is like I am Asian — as in like a big blob of diverse cultures,” he mentioned. 

For Asian actors, Chan says playing the position of a cultural identity that’s not their personal is often the only way they can get solid. He suggests that leads to emotions of guilt mainly because there may be a extra reliable actor for the role.

Chan understood that to participate in people that mirrored who he was, he wanted to self-generate content. He teamed up with Toronto-based filmmakers and creators to act in shorter video clips. A person of his collaborations is with the YouTube channel Pandoodles

“That’s exactly where I felt not only myself, but all of us could provide our reliable selves to the roles that we manufactured due to the fact it is … a extremely Asian-centric channel,” he said. “So they you should not like earning me a Japanese person … I’m usually both Chinese or no unique ethnicity.”

One of Chan’s jobs is the small movie The ONLY Asian, based around the concept of becoming the only Asian necessary in a expertise agency’s roster.

“What The ONLY Asian is attempting to highlight is that in many cases in sector, if you already have an individual who is Asian, let’s say, they will not ebook an additional just one,” he mentioned. “They is not going to even publish a different one in.”

Chan says the sector however has a prolonged way to go when it comes to addressing diversity. 

“Diversity and inclusion issue in this business,” he reported.

“There should be a assorted team of people today performing on the two sides in each individual output for the reason that that is the most effective way to inform the most reliable tales probable.”

Michael Chan’s brief movie created for the duration of the pandemic, ‘The ONLY Asian,’ has garnered quite a few awards and was impressed by the struggle quite a few Asian actors face when attempting to obtain illustration. (Submitted by Michael Chan)

Vong Sundara laughs it up at ‘Fresh Rice’

When Vong Sundara first started performing comedy in little towns in Alberta, where by he is from, he claimed men and women would appear up to him to say they’d by no means noticed an Asian in genuine existence. 

Sundara, known by his stage title Vong Show, stated in the 1st 10 a long time of his profession, the viewers was mainly white. He normally adapted his comedy to them by over-outlining jokes. 

“I experienced to water it down so that it is extra digestible,” he claimed. 

As someone who was happy of his heritage, he understood that he needed to integrate his identity and society into his comedy with no possessing to make clear himself. 

Vong Sundara says as a comic, it is important to have a assorted audience for the reason that it improvements the material and how a lot set up is required. (Submitted by Vong Sundara)

“I resolved, ‘You know what? I want to start off building my very own audience’ — and that’s when I commenced all-Asian reveals or all-homosexual displays,” he reported.

Sundara noted that any person is welcome to his comedy sets, but he no more time writes for a white viewers. 

“In particular now, [at] this position of my occupation, I do not do any explanation. But the way I get all-around it is I make confident that the make-up of the viewers will aid the men and women who really don’t understand,” he explained. 

To help other Asian Comedians navigate the waters and embrace their identities, Sundara started “New Rice,” a new Asian web comedy series that airs weekly on Youtube, showcasing up-and-coming Asian comedians. The series was filmed in 2020, prior to the pandemic.

Vong Demonstrate is a Toronto comic who’s produced an all-Asian comedy net collection featuring eight stand up comics. 7:14

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