LiterAsian – Asian Canadian stories: from page to screen

With a theme of “Finding our voices, telling our stories,” this year’s LiterAsian Festival will present a number of talented Asian storytellers who have mastered multiple mediums from books to screenplays.

Running from May 7 to May 15, the festival will feature panel discussions, writing workshops, literary book talks, manuscript development sessions and will end with a film screening that showcases the artistic creations of the featured speakers.

Helping writers transition to screen

“We have successfully established ourselves over the last 10 years. We launched some outrageously talented Asian writers and some of them have won the Governor General’s Awards. Now we need to show that we can transition into other areas of artistry. This year I launched this idea of a festival that would highlight some Asian writers who have actually made that transition from books to screen so that the world would know that we have this pool of talent,” says Cindy Chan Piper, festival coordinator and artistic director.

Piper is also a retired architect, urban planner, actor and photographer. She started acting after retirement and her film credits include an appearance in Deadpool among others.

“There are still a lot of stereotypes in the film industry and there are no good roles for Asians. We are always cast as Kung Fu masters or shopkeepers, never as real people,” she says. “So I thought since we have all these talented Asian writers, why don’t we encourage them to start writing meaningful and culturally relevant scripts that portray Asians as three-dimensional people?”

She adds that there has been a shift in the film and TV industry in recent years thanks to popular shows with Asian leads such as Kim’s Convenience as well as to general anti-racism movements in North America, but more needs to be done.

“I would like to see stories that talk about Asian people as real people, show us with our talents, with our issues and with our opportunities,” Piper says.

A focus on anti-racism

A fourth-generation Chinese in her 70s, Piper grew up in a different era in Canada and has her own life story that she says she intends to write one day. It shows the ugly face of racism and the resilient spirit of immigrants.

“My grandparents paid the head tax to come to Canada. The Exclusion Act affected my family. As a child, I grew up in a segregated town in B.C., because there was a company policy that Asians could not live in the town where the whites live. I suffered extreme racism. I remember I came home from my first day at school covered in blood because I was beaten up for being a chink,” Piper says.

She emphasizes that racism hasn’t changed much and that it didn’t take much during the pandemic for it to rear its ugly head. She hopes one of the things that can come out of this year’s festival is anti-racism.

Have you eaten yet?

Anti-racism starts with understanding and empathy and there is no better way to achieve it than telling relatable personal stories.

Author Cheuk Kwan. | Photo courtesy of LiterAsian

Have you eaten yet?, a book written by Cheuk Kwan and published just this year, is a cultural meditation on food, family, Chinese migration history, the complexity of Chinese diaspora and the resilient spirit of immigrants. The phrase ‘Have you eaten yet?’ is a common greeting when Chinese people meet each other again.

The book is a continuation of Kwan’s previous documentary work, where he traveled for four years in 13 different countries documenting Chinese restaurants abroad, sometimes in exotic and faraway locations such as Istanbul, Madagascar and Cuba. His documentary Chinese Restaurants: Latin Passions won the Special Jury Prize at the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Calling himself a card-carrying member of the Chinese diaspora, Kwan was born in Hong Kong but has lived in Singapore, Japan, the United States, Saudi Arabia and finally settled in Canada.

“Every time I moved, I would transition from different cultures and different languages. So in that sense, I am used to kind of a floating life. I have a lot of identification with these people who are out of China, maybe for a few generations but they still carry on with that Chinese culture and a love for Chinese food,” Kwan says.

His remarkable journey through food has landed him some incredible encounters. In Madagascar, he found out that about 95 per cent of the Chinese diaspora are from this one village in China, his own ancestral village.

“I’ve never been to my village but here’s my grandfather’s village. I even met somebody who went to the same school as my father. A lot of the Chinese have intermarried with locals so they have dark skin, but they still speak and write Chinese and keep the traditions. I even found a woman who makes Chinese mooncakes,” Kwan says.

Food holds central importance in Chinese culture. As a sharing experience, it glues the family and the community together. Through the stories of these Chinese diaspora restaurant owners, Kwan also explores the hardships of new immigrants in a foreign land and their resilient spirit to fight for a better life for the next generation.

“I purposely dealt with anti-Asian racism in my epilogue even though my stories were in the past. I argue that everything I wrote relates to what is happening now with immigrants or refugees. Now we have Afghan or Ukrainian people coming over to Canada with one suitcase and starting all over again. It is the same thing with the people in my stories,” Kwan says.

For more information on the festival, please visit: