Cheuk Kwan was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Singapore and Japan. After studying engineering in the U.S., he immigrated to Canada in 1976 where he embarked upon a successful IT career.
In 1978, Kwan co-founded The Asianadian, a progressive and influential magazine dedicated to the promotion of Asian Canadian arts, culture and politics. The following year, Kwan helped lead the Anti-W5 Campaign to fight against the racist portrayal of Chinese Canadians in the media. Kwan’s diasporic life inspired him to produce and direct the Chinese Restaurants documentary series. He is the Executive Director at Harmony Movement.
INTERVIEW WITH CHEUK KWAN
Q: You have been there at the start of the Asian-Canadian writing scene alongside other pioneers like Jim Wong-Chu, Sid Tan and Sean Gunn. How has the literary scene changed since the early days of Asian-Canadian literary consciousness, and do you think there is still work to be done?
A: The Asianadian in the east and the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop in the west have helped push the cultural boundaries and literary consciousness among Asian Canadians. What we find in 2018, in this festival, is the fruit of some of the pioneering and nurturing work being done by these platforms in the 70’s. So, yes, more can be done, but I think we should all be proud that Asian Canadian writers have come a long way.
Q: In many ways you are a person of multiple worlds, having lived in various countries in the depths of the 1950’s and 1960’s. How have the events of your life and the places you’ve passed through influenced your career, activism and creative work?
A: As a member of the Chinese diaspora and having been uprooted and moved through different cultures when I was young, I have always thrived on inter-cultural challenges. It also helped form my internationalism. When I co-founded The Asianadian, I thought that it should be pan-Asian in scope and not just focusing on a particular group, like Chinese-Canadians. This was a rather pioneering concept in multicultural Canada in the late 70’s. And it is this innovative approach that led to my community and political activism, as well as making, what many would call, a landmark documentary on the Chinese diaspora.
Q: Your documentary series Chinese Restaurants takes you on the trail of diasporic Chinese cooking. Do you have a personal favourite dish from your travels?
A: My all-time favourite Cantonese dish is steamed fish with ginger and scallions. I have had excellent steamed fish at Huang Restaurant in Sao Paolo, Brazil where the owner apprenticed in a famous Hong Kong restaurant; and at Restaurant Jade in Tamatave, Madagascar where the fish was just caught off the ocean that morning.