CBC profiled Vietnamese-Canadian businesses from across the country that are at the hearts of their communities

posted May 16, 2022, 8:02 PM by Le Phan
Asian Heritage Month 2022


May is #AsianHeritageMonth and to celebrate, we've (CBC) profiled Asian-Canadian businesses from across the country that are at the hearts of their communities. And for more Asian Heritage Month content, visit CBC Gem for a new collection of series, documentaries and films that honour the rich culture and talent of Asian-Canadians and follow the hashtag #ProudlyAsianCanadian on social media for more inspiring profiles.

Tam Nguyen, a tailor in Winnipeg

In Vietnam, I grew up in a small community with limited funds that was used towards feeding my family of 11. When I was 12 years old, my sister and her family came home to visit my parents. I saw they were all dressed nicely and asked how they were able to afford these nice clothes. My sister told me it was because her husband was a tailor and he tailored all their clothing. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be a tailor and asked her husband to teach me.

I came to Canada in October 1980 as one of the Vietnamese “boat people” When I arrived in Winnipeg, I had already learned a lot from my brother-in-law but knew I would need to develop my skills to adapt to the Canadian style of clothing. I met Giovanni Lagioia who taught me how to become an even better tailor. I had some friends who encouraged me to open a business of my own despite not knowing much English at the time. I’m so thankful for them, as I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support. Since then, I have developed my skills as a tailor and have built a name for myself in Winnipeg. 

We took a family trip to Hollywood in 1995. Since then, I had always dreamed about making clothing for movie stars. [In approximately the year] 2000, I received a phone call asking if I could make five suits (jacket, pants, and shirt) in 14 days. At first, I thought they were joking. Then I found out it was for a movie starring Brian Dennehy. That was the first photo taken for my tailor shop wall of fame. Since then, the movie industry has been drawn to the city of Winnipeg and my tailor shop. 

While tailoring clothing for the movie Capote, I met Catherine Keener. She chatted with me as if we were old friends. I didn’t realize she was an actress until I was fitting her for a costume! She was so kind and I really appreciated that.

Since immigrating to Canada, I’ve always lived in the downtown/west end area [of Winnipeg]. I purchased the 800/802 Ellice Ave. building in 1987 and it has served as a place for my family to have a fresh start. Every time I sponsored a family member to immigrate to Winnipeg, they have always lived in this building until they were able to establish themselves to get a place of their own. So far, I have brought more than 50 family members to Winnipeg and they all have successfully opened their own businesses across the city.

Coming to Canada as a refugee made me realize what an amazing country we live in. We are so lucky to have a diverse community with so many opportunities for individuals with various skill sets. If you have a skill, then there will be a place for you in the community. I am proud to share knowledge about my Vietnamese heritage with anyone who wants to know more.
Tam Nguyen is the owner of Tam Custom Tailor in Winnipeg.


BRIAN TONG (OTTAWA)

I'm a creative by definition: I’m a dancer, a choreographer and I run my own media production agency. Throughout the pandemic I think I’ve evolved as a person - I’ve become more clear and more grounded. Thankfully my business has also evolved from a struggling freelancer to a thriving, growing agency.
 
I've always known that I am ethnic, and I am rooted in being Vietnamese. Does it change the way I think? No. I never fully indulged in Vietnamese culture as much as I should have, but as my business has evolved and my voice has grown louder, I’ve realized that I do have a big opportunity to make a positive impact on my culture, and now is a great time to be culturally creative.

Me and my friends have experienced verbal racism in Ottawa, but you learn over time how to respond and react to situations. There's a saying that my mom always uses, ‘Small minds speak with hands, and big minds speak with words,’ so instead of fighting we should try to educate ourselves. Education is such a key to harmony and peace and it goes both ways. I try to understand why people say and do racist things and I think that if those people understood more about (and indulge in) the different cultures around them, they might change their ways. Every ethnic person learns  to adapt to Canadian culture but it’s not always easy for that person to do so. Vietnam has 4,000 years of history and with that comes deeply-rooted rules of thumb that aren’t always easily translated to Western culture. All we ask is that people try to understand and adapt to us as we have to them.”

Brian Tong is a choreographer/storyteller from Ottawa 
who runs studio79e, a media production agency. 

Laura Luu (Montréal)
Montrealer Laura Luu embraces her own version of multiculturalism
Luu founded a local group that highlights Asian businesses in the city

Laura Luu, founder of Local 88. (Jessica Wu/CBC)
Laura Luu has learned to see her identity in a whole new light.

"Before the pandemic, I thought I was just a Quebecer. During the pandemic, with all the hate incidents, I realized I was a Quebecer who was Asian, and that is very different."

In 2020, Luu noticed that, in addition to the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic, some Asian business owners in Montreal were dealing with incidents of racism and vandalism.

Those challenges inspired her to start Local 88, a Facebook group supporting restaurants 
and grocers that were suffering due to false associations with COVID-19.

  • Local 88: a group highlighting Asian businesses in the city
  • Asian Market food and craft market kicks off Asian History Month in Montreal
"I'm a foodie and I really love Asian food. I was so scared that my favourite restaurants would close," she said. "That's why it was important for me to start Local 88, so that people can promote local gems." 

The group has grown to 13,000 followers and expanded to include all types of Montreal Asian businesses, from scrunchie-makers to paper flower artisans and massage therapists. 

To mark the start of Asian Heritage Month in Montreal, on May 1 Local 88 organized its 
first ever Majesthé Market to support local Asian entrepreneurs in collaboration 
with the restaurant Majesthé. (Jessica Wu/CBC )

While it started as a virtual space, Local 88 has recently expanded to include in-person events. It held the MajesThé Market on May 1 in collaboration with a restaurant by the same name, featuring a local dozen East and Southeast Asian artisans and food businesses and attracting over 1,000 visitors. 

For Luu, initiatives like Local 88 help the culturally diverse Asian community unite and find solutions together. It is in this diversity that Luu has also been able to carve out her own identity.

"I realize now that I can choose my own side and embrace my unique third choice, being a CanAsian (Asian Canadian)," she said.

"I am happy I will teach my kid this CanAsian identity and he's entitled to have his own version, too, because he is uniquely multicultural."

The MajesThé Market, which featured a dozen local East and Southeast Asian artisans 
and food businesses, took place on May 1 and attracted over 1,000 visitors. (Jessica Wu/CBC)

Source: CBC Community · Asian Heritage Month
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