Dramaturge, playwright and director Nina Lee Aquino is in a league of her own.

A pioneering Filipino-Canadian in the Toronto theatre community, she has been a formidable force for redefining multiculturalism in the arts. Currently co-artistic director of the indie stage company, Factory Theatre, Aquino has made it a commitment to nurture future theatre artists and leaders who reflect the vibrant diversity of Toronto.

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Illustrations courtesy of NESS LEE

An ambush of tiger moms herds its daughters along a straight path, asking them not to spend hard-earned loonies and toonies on cute stationery but to focus on investing in the future. And then there’s Bruce Lee — every Lee must be descended from him, right?

Who better to poke fun at Asian stereotypes and subvert representations than Ness Lee, who saw herself as the perpetual outsider among Asians in high school?  Or as she calls the experience, “life as a banana surrounded by lemons.”

Rather than oblique references to one’s cultural heritage, Lee, a Hakka-Chinese Canadian illustrator, peels away the layers to understand her culture, and her place in it. Read more

Canada plays host to a growing number of international students, with more than half (52.7 per cent in 2008) coming from Asia.

Although part of studying abroad is about developing new tastes and discovering new places that in time become old haunts, there’s comfort in bringing the familiar with you to keep those homesick blues at bay.

What stuff, we wonder, can’t students leave home without — and wouldn’t mind risking an excess baggage fee for?

Nami Suzuki, a graduate of McGill University, shares what she hauled all the way from Japan to Canada. Read more

Photos Courtesy of Jennifer Rong 

The wood whisperer

A tree graveyard in Etobicoke, where an assortment of short-limbed trunks and stumps has haphazardly been tossed, is a “gold mine” for artist-carpenter Jennifer Rong.

“There’s this place where the city hires people to cut down trees that are dying,” she shared.  “The trees are thrown into a lot; it’s just garbage.”

The hunt is purposeful and selective: Rong picks out the gnarly and unusual fragments that can give a piece a distinctive shape or appearance.

There she recovered a sickly tree stump, its life claimed by nibbling worms. Its beaked edge and cupped form inspired Rong to transform it into a swivelling seat complete with an armrest. In its present state, the sculpted chair still proudly bears the scars of its demise, furnishing it with an irresistible story to tell.

Photos by Marites N. Sison/The Origami

Hello, Horse

The densho bell outside the Fo Guang Shan Temple is rung 108 times at the stroke of midnight on Lunar New Year’s Eve to end the old year and welcome the new one. Each chime is said to represent one of 108 sins one needs to overcome to achieve nirvana (the final state of peace and happiness in Buddhism).

Photos © Copyright, The Origami, Shin Jae Park

Saving Little India

The graveyard silence permeating the streets of Little India is broken only by a fluttering kit of pigeons, whose wings cast shadows on the façade of what once was the Naaz Theatre.

It’s morning on a weekday in fall, and most of the merchants are hibernating. I’m told the streetscape is liveliest in summer, when the air is heavy with the scent of incense and spices. In winter, the streets and shops are nearly as bare as the trees. Weekends offer an interlude of somewhat steady activity, enough to encourage storeowners to remain.

Some, though, have taken flight from this historic strip on Toronto’s Gerrard Street East, between Coxwell Avenue and Greenwood Avenue. Ten to 15 empty storefronts serve as a glaring reminder that things are not what they used to be. Rents have gone up, and without a reliable stream of customers, many businesses have taken a beating, says Subbu Chintaluri, the BIA manager of Gerrard India Bazaar. 

Photos by Mariyah Gonzales

The land 

A young Filipino-Canadian travels back to the Philippines and reclaims a piece of her family’s history.