Asian Heritage Month: Marie-Michelle and Michael's Top Picks

Marie-Michelle

Communications Manager

Vietnam

What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?

I have thought about this for a long time. I am of Vietnamese descent, born in Quebec. When I was young, it might sound strange, but I didn’t want to be Asian. I wanted to be “like everyone else”.

In other words, I wanted to be white.

I was ashamed of my “weird” school lunches and just wanted the shape of my eyes left alone.

If I could talk to the little girl that I used to be, I would tell her that her weird lunches are in fact culinary experiences that will become really trendy in the future; that her slightly “brown” skin is a superpower to avoid getting sunburned easily; and that her mother tongue will become a secret code with her sisters. Because, in the end, being like everyone else is pretty boring.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations were very quiet, careful not to create waves or draw attention to themselves. These are lessons that were learned the hard way in wartime.

Today, Asian Heritage Month is for me a force that is awakening. It is the 2nd and 3rd generation Asians who want to be heard, who see their origins as a blessing and who are not afraid to say it loud and clear.

For me, more concretely, it means using the boldness, honesty, and self-confidence drawn from my Quebec culture as a springboard to celebrate the richness of my Vietnamese culture as it deserves to be; in a loud, sparkly, and flashy way.

 

Which stereotypes about Asian culture would you like to break?

That Asian fathers are tough and cold. My dad is just the opposite.

He’s not at all afraid to show affection to his three daughters and tell us he loves us. And I know he’s not the exception either.

Do you have movies/series/books and/or music recommendations that showcase Asian culture?

  • David Chang’s podcast: Contrary to popular belief, he does not only talks about the restaurant industry, but he also gives a platform to many people in the Asian community to discuss current issues.

A remarkable episode: season 1 episode 14 – A conversation with chef Diep Tran who discusses her escape from Vietnam at the age of 3, how her grandmother was her model of resilience, and what it was like to stake her claim as a chef and member of the AAPI and LGBTQ+ community in the United States.

  • The miniseries Forever on Amazon Prime, created and produced by Alan Yang, a writer, producer, and director known for his work on Parks & Recreation, The Good Place, Master of None, and South Park. Alan broke into the American film and television industry, where very few Asians have yet found their place. He explains in an interview how the under-representation of Asians, both in front of and behind the camera, is a vicious cycle. Until there are people entering the field, we will continue to see the same headliners and be underrepresented.
  • All of Kim-Thuy’s books have allowed me to lift the veil on the story of my parents and grandparents. It was probably too painful for them to fully share their stories with me. I was able to understand them better through the words of this author.

Can you recommend a Montreal restaurant to eat an authentic Asian meal?

This is my area of expertise! I recommend that you try the bánh xèo at Bánh Xèo Minh on Jarry.

This central Vietnam specialty is a crispy savory pancake with flour, coconut milk, and turmeric. It is stuffed with pork, shrimps, and bean sprouts. It’s eaten on the spot, wrapped in crunchy lettuce leaves, with plenty of Thai basil and dipped in Nước mắm, the traditional fish sauce.

You can also find them in bite size at Red Tiger and at Au 14, closer to downtown Montreal, or at Phở MC Brossard on the South Shore. In this case, it is called Bánh Khọt, originally from the Vũng Tàu region.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your cultural heritage?

In Asian culture, the elders have a big place in family life. We honour and respect them.

Very often, we live in intergenerational homes with our grandparents.

When I think of my heritage, I think of my Bà nội (paternal grandmother in Vietnamese). She took care of me my whole life while my parents were still working hard in the factories to support their new little family.

She spent hours telling me about her Vietnam, her countryside, her childhood memories.

She taught me how to make homemade soy milk, chè chuối or cơm rượu, a dessert of fermented rice.

She told me about the legends of the Vietnamese jungle and her funny superstitions.

She taught me humility, patience, and thoroughness.

She raised me to be a caring and loving person.

My grandmother is no longer with us, but what remains of my heritage today was left to me by her.

Michael

Lead Marketing Artist

Taiwan

What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?

Frankly, I have not been an active participant in Asian Heritage Month, because, for the most part I think that Canadians live in harmony and embrace cultural diversity. So, I never felt inclined to carry forward the spirit of the event.

However, we have witnessed in recent months that hateful crimes against our Asian communities are on the rise. This is a reminder to us all that our valued cultural harmony is very fragile. I too gained a renewed perspective on the significance of the Asian Heritage Month.

I grew up in Taiwan and came to Canada at 14 with my little sister who was 9 at the time. I think that many can relate to how transformative the experience can be for 2 teenagers who barely spoke English. The distance from friends and family feels a lot further than the 12-hour flight from one continent to another. We both felt very excited and scared.

There were always questions in our minds about whether people will accept us and befriend us. After all, we were aware of how different we were. For quite some time, I tried to suppress my own culture, even at times rejecting it in order to fit in.

Fortunately, I quickly realized that we were not alone, in fact, our ESL classes were often filled with people of diverse background, and we were encouraged to share and promote our culture. This opened my eyes to other cultures and, more importantly, opened my heart. Kindness and curiosity connect us.

Today, Asian Heritage Month holds a different meaning for me. I am thankful that I live in an open-minded society.

Nevertheless, cultural harmony requires effort to maintain. Open dialog and sharing can be effective ways to help us see how multiculturalism can enrich our lives, and how our social construct can be strengthened by our diversity.

I genuinely hope that our generation will continue carrying forward the torch and embracing each other. That is what being a Canadian is about.

 

Does your family have any traditions that are particularly important to you?

One of my favourite traditions is the Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival. This is a special day when we celebrate the reunion of our families and relatives by having a feast and activities.

  • Moon Cake: The tradition of eating Moon Cake has been around for thousands of years. Its round shape symbolizes reunion; it is also customary to gift others with Moon Cake to wish good luck. Moon Cake also comes in both sweet and savoury flavours, over the years Moon Cakes has seen a lot of innovation and has evolved. Its craftmanship is equal to others of the finest desserts/delicacies.

 

  • Hot Pot: Once again, a big round pot placed on a big round table put emphasizes the tradition of joyous reunion. Hot Pot is not a meal meant for few people. Families work in concert to prepare, cook, and serve food for each other. This particularly long meal session also allows family to enjoy conversations with each other. Clearly, family value is heavily rooted in Chinese culture.

 

  • Moon Viewing: What could better than sitting in the yard while watching the biggest full moon of the year with family and friends. The bright moon in the dark sky provides a perfect setting for conversations and story-sharing.

Do you have a movie suggestion that showcases Asian culture?

I would highly recommend “The Wedding Banquet” (1993) by Ang Lee.

The word “wedding” in Chinese is a word made up of “double-happiness” which provide a metaphorical framework for the story.

This film is full of flavour of Chinese culture while illustrating the gap between 2 generations, multiplied by 2 contrasting cultures (Western and Eastern).

Ang Lee graciously shows how each character deals with their internal conflicts and traditions. Almost as Tai Chi, the Yin and Yang is a complex relational philosophy which can be used to describe the cultural dynamics in the film; this constant duality is seemingly opposing yet complementary.

This film does not try to make a moral statement but invite its viewer to examine a fictional story that feels more realistic than life. If you are a fan of Ang Lee, this film is great one to see.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your cultural heritage?

I have been always fascinated by Chinese calligraphy. Almost all traditional Chinese visual art stem from the art of calligraphy.

It is known that Chinese characters are classified as logogram or pictographs, meanings are signified and forged within a complex linguistic system. When writing a word with a sumi-brush, it feels as if you are painting shapes to form words.

When looking closely at a Chinese painting, you may find that painting is an extension of Chinese calligraphy. That’s why calligraphy and painting are often mentioned in the same breath as they are inseparable.

In Chinese painting, one notices that things are often depicted without perspective or shading; this is directly influenced by the art of calligraphy. In fact, the process of painting is referred to as “writing”. In another words, the act of painting is like writing poetry just as poetry uses images, metaphors, rhythms, and tones.

The essence of Chinese calligraphy is expressing feelings, therefore some of the greatest calligraphers were also considered the greatest poets and painters of their time. In today’s digital age, there is a still lack of computerized Chinese fonts due to the complexity of production, so calligraphy is still very widely used in combination with technology since it offers endless possibilities with a “personal touch”.

The art of calligraphy has shaped the look and feel of our cities for thousands of years. It can sometimes be forgotten that history is always among us.

Which stereotypes about Asian culture would you like to break? 

 

Stereotypes are a convenient way to categorize people, while they are sometimes rooted in some degree of truth, I think it is important to understand how stereotypes are formed because they can transform into prejudice and discrimination.

So, we need to educate others about them.

One stereotype about Asians:  Asian people are reserved, indifferent or uninterested in public. For instance, some may encounter a scenario of opening a conversation with another Asian person without getting much enthusiasm in return. It appears difficult to break the ice with them, especially with Asian elders.

I think that those who have travelled in Asia may find their experience entirely different. In fact, respect and politeness are quite common traits in most, if not all, Asian cultures, so one must wonder why the social behaviour changed drastically outside of Asia?

Speaking from my own experience, there is an inherent insecurity about speaking out due to many factors that are difficult to summarize. There is a saying in Chinese culture – “Harmony is the most precious, the less trouble, the better.”

Many like myself will often choose to keep a low profile to avoid unexpected circumstances. This is quite common among elderly Asian people who speak little English. Having said all that, friendship and bonds are, in fact, highly valued in Asian cultures. It may take just a little bit longer to warm up. Once a bond is formed, it is genuine and strong for a long time to come.