15 Inspirational Asian Canadians to Know
by : Patricia Karounos and Hannah Ziegler- May 25th, 2020
In honour of Asian Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Asian-Canadian women and non-binary people for their impact in the realms of culture, fashion, athletics and politics. This is far from an exhaustive list, but just a few of the incredible Canadians whose work we can’t stop noticing. We celebrate them – and all Asian Canadians across the country – today, this month and throughout the year.
All of our best gossip comes from Elaine Lui – or Lainey, as she is better known. The Toronto-born writer launched her eponymous blog, Lainey Gossip, in 2004 while still working at Vancouver’s Covenant House. Two years later, she quit her job to preside over the site full time, and she’s been a regular fixture in our pop-culture routine ever since. Lui is also a reporter for etalk and one of the hosts of daytime talk show The Social. Ultimately, she believes our collective fascination with celebrity and, in turn, gossip is just “very much a part of human nature” that we shouldn’t have to justify, which is a message we can definitely get behind.
The “Grandmother of Many Nations,” Adrienne Clarkson has left her mark on our country in the areas of politics, broadcast journalism and reconciliation. Born in Hong Kong, Clarkson got her start in Canadian television in 1965 – at 26 years old, she became the first woman and visible minority to headline a national TV program on CBC’s Take Thirty. After many fruitful years in broadcast journalism, she served as the 26th Governor General in Canada from 1999 until 2005, during which time she placed a strong focus on bringing Indigenous peoples to the forefront of Canadian conversations.
For those of us who used to watch MuchMusic daily, Lauren Toyota was as much a part of our routines as a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Speaking of which, the former VJ and host of the now defunct “New.Music.Live” has pivoted to the world of vegan cooking. Hot for Food, launched in 2015, is a vegan food and lifestyle blog that has garnered an exceptional following; Toyota shares recipes, travel tips and even video tutorials on her YouTube channel. If you are in search of the perfect cauliflower buffalo wings, she is your girl.
Whether you know her as Cristina Yang, Eve Polastri or the principal from The Princess Diaries, we can all agree that Sandra Oh has the range. Born in Ottawa, Oh became interested in acting at a young age, pursuing studies in theatre despite her parents’ preference that she choose a more practical field. Clearly, it has paid off – after 10 years on Grey’s Anatomy, our June 2020 cover star has made waves in the assassin thriller Killing Eve. She also made her Instagram Live debut on ELLE Canada’s Instagram channel, which we will just leave here.
Born in Punjab, India, and raised in Brampton, Ont., Rupi Kaur’s simple yet poignant poetry explores the immigrant experience as well as sexual trauma. She gained a large fan base after posting illustrated visuals of her personal poems on Instagram. Now you can read her poetry IRL with her published works Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers.
DR. THERESA TAM
As she’s the chief public health officer of Canada and head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadians have grown accustomed to seeing Dr. Theresa Tam in nearly daily briefings during the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to managing Canada’s response to COVID-19, Tam helped guide Canada through health crises like SARS, H1N1 and Ebola. Her background as a pediatric infectious disease specialist makes her a highly knowledgeable and pragmatic leader. She is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in Canada’s public health history.
Mani Jassal’s eponymous luxury eveningwear and bridal brand is a love letter to both her past and her modern influences. Jassal was born in Punjab, India, and moved to Toronto with her family when she was four years old. She graduated from Ryerson University with a degree in fashion design and went on to create pieces worn by the likes of Rupi Kaur, Hannah Simone, Bebe Rexha and Madison Beer, who have embraced the designer’s unorthodox yet culturally rich pieces.
Dani Roche founded Kastor & Pollux, a marketing and design agency, in 2011, when she was 20 years old. Now, the Toronto-based creative director has made the Forbes 30 under 30 list (Marketing and Advertising, 2019), garnering acclaim for her empowerment of independent creatives and representation of Asian women in media and business. In fact, in 2018, she founded School by KP, a program for entrepreneurs that provides course access to marginalized communities.
Scarborough-born Vicky Sunohara has been described as “the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” and for good reason – as a participant in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics, she brought one silver and two gold medals home to Canada. Currently, she is the head coach for the University of Toronto women’s hockey team.
“Stories about contemporary female friendships are few and far between,” multi-disciplinary artist Vivek Shraya told ELLE Canada in March. “And of those books, even fewer have brown characters. But I’ve always tried to prioritize friendships as much as romantic relationships.” Shraya explores intersectional experiences not only in her own written stories as a brown trans woman but also through music, visual art, theatre and film. As an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Calgary and a director on the board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation, Shraya is spreading her art, creativity and knowledge in all corners of the Canadian arts community.
Toronto Blue Jays fans know and love sports broadcaster Hazel Mae for her steady reporting – and for keeping her cool when she gets caught in celebratory post-victory Gatorade dumps. Born in the Philippines, Mae grew up in Toronto, where she also started her career. She spent much of the 2010s as a sports reporter in the U.S., including a run at the MLB Network, before returning home to work at Sportsnet once again. She has covered the Blue Jays for the network as its on-field reporter since 2015 and is also the founder of Hazel Mae Design Inc., a line of dresses borne out of a desire to create the looks she wanted to wear on camera.
Let’s be real: You’ve already binged your way through Netflix’s Never Have I Ever. So by now it’s clear why Mindy Kaling chose Mississauga native Maitreyi Ramakrishnan out of 15,000 candidates for the starring role in the coming-of-age comedy. As Devi, the Tamil-Canadian is a natural, giving a charming, hilarious and often moving performance. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
If you’ve paid any attention to the Canadian entertainment industry over the past couple of decades, you know Jean Yoon. The Toronto-raised actor started out in the city’s theatre scene and soon began appearing in TV and film projects that filmed in the city, like La Femme Nikita and The Time Traveller’s Wife. Currently, she stars on CBC’s delightful hit comedy Kim’s Convenience, in which she never fails to make us laugh.
Ellen Wong, a Scarborough, Ont., native, is a stealthy scene-stealer. Whether it’s in her role as Knives Chau in cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which she landed, in part, because she has a black belt in taekwondo, nbd), as BFF to a young Carrie Bradshaw in The Carrie Diaries or as Jenny in Netflix’s Glow, the Chinese-Cambodian actor has a presence you can’t look away from. If Wong is in something, it’s guaranteed she’ll make it more enjoyable.
“I was writing all this great stuff about plus-size fashion and really pushing diversity, but I was having a hard time getting dressed for work [because of the lack of inclusive sizing],” Canadian model-turned-editor-turned-entrepreneur Lauren Chan told us back in September. It was that realization that led the NYC-based Chan, then working as an editor at Glamour, to launch her workwear brand, Henning. Looking for professional yet chic looks that will have you feeling in control of any situation? Chan’s got you covered.
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