Cheuk Kwan was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. He has also lived in the US, Saudi Arabia and Canada, and speaks English, Japanese, French, as well as Cantonese and Mandarin. Kwan co-founded in 1978 The Asianadian, a magazine dedicated to promoting Asian Canadian arts, culture and politics. His 15-part Chinese Restaurants (2005) documentary braids his personal experiences with his love of travel and appreciation for Chinese culture worldwide. Latin Passions, a feature film from the television series, won the Special Jury Prize at the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
You were born in Hong Kong, raised in Singapore and Japan, and lived in Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. How have these locations and experiences affected your writing?
Growing up in all these locations contributed to my persona and identity: “a card-carrying member of the Chinese diaspora”. These experiences informed my initial interviews, and eventually writing and telling the stories of the Chinese diaspora. Specifically, I can identify, empathize and commiserate with many of the experiences that my subject went through (family in Turkey, e.g.).
As a filmmaker, documentarian, and writer, what do you enjoy most about each process? What was it like turning your films and documentaries into a book?
I enjoyed most the “storytelling” aspect of making a film or writing a book. Which means pulling the materials together into a coherent whole within the format that I am working on. In film it’s the initial stages of editing or story assembly, deciding what to put in and what to leave out, and making sense of it all. Very similar in writing a book. In my case, producing a chapter’s good draft. The detail fine-tuning/editing is more a collaboration between me and my film/book editor(s), and I enjoy that as well.
You were a co-founder of The Asianadian, the first Asian Canadian serial promoting Asian Canadian arts, culture, and politics. How did you first come up with the idea for the anthology and what was the development process like?
Because I grew up in Japan, I can identify with a lot of what Japanese Canadians have gone through: identity politics, integration/assimilation, and their place in Canada. So it was very natural for me to apply my “world view” to bring together Asian Canadians into a discussion of who we are, and of course, about the issues that concern all of us.
I was volunteering in a Chinese-language Chinese Canadian magazine, and we had decided to make it bi-lingual English/Chinese. So one half of the magazine will open one way, and the other half the other way. But then the question becomes: who will read a bi-lingual magazine? Our readership will be split along Canadian-born vs. immigrant line. So my co-founders (Tony Chan and Lao Bo) thought: “we should start a magazine for all Asian Canadians”. The legend is that the magazine was founded over a bacon-and-eggs breakfast at a diner in Toronto. And it’s true. On a whim, we told ourselves, “why don’t we start a new magazine.” And the rest, as they say, is history. We took the one half of that magazine we had laid out and made it into a standalone magazine. A little bit of interesting tidbits: the name of the magazine was called Crossroads, and it was all over the pages. So we had to find a ten-letter word that we can cut and paste onto “Crossroads” (there were no Word at that time, it was all typewritten out and pasted on layout boards). Thus “Asianadian” was born.