Curtis Lum on his journey to tell authentic stories as a creative
Chinese Canadian Curtis Lum’s story is not dissimilar to others’. He came from humble beginnings, having spent much of his youth shopping in the streets of Vancouver’s Chinatown after school. It’s where his grandfather opened the first push cart dim sum restaurant in Vancouver, formerly known as the Jade Palace.
Fast forward to the present, and forging a path to multiple successful artistic endeavors — as a writer, actor, director, and entrepreneur — was anything but easy. His approach to the business was something he described as “guns blazing” while he tried to put his name out into the creative world. He’s since then refined the approach, wanting to add to the conversation than simply be a part of it.
As a Chinese Canadian, Lum endured racism, both overt and internalized. But he never allowed that to define him. Instead, he’s used it as fuel to help him tell authentic stories in his creative journey.
To make it is one thing, but to make it and make a difference is something else entirely. In this docuseries, Cold Tea Collective highlights how four Asian Canadians are doing just that. With Curtis Lum, we see a multi-hyphenate creative aiming to utilize his artistic platforms to uplift the Asian community.
The more prominent that Lum, his artistic platform, and platform of others within the Asian community become, the more it paves the way for other stories to rise to the surface.
“It’s our time now. We’re finally in the conversation,” he said.
Creating during COVID
But that conversation didn’t happen overnight. Much of it can be traced back to the sharp rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community during the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic.
In the midst of pandemic and fear, Lum and his business partner, Richard Doromal, founded the clothing label, Rare Spirit. The intention of the brand, clothing and campaigns were to “rise above the madness.” Many of their designs are created through a charitable lens that Lum and Doromal felt particularly close to within their community.
“A lot of our designs have a charitable aspect to it. We attached ourselves to a campaign we feel passionate about supporting,” Lum said. “So it’s not only about looking cool and making cool designs for people. It’s also about helping those in our own community.”
Lum and Doromal recently collaborated with Cold Tea Collective to fundraise for the growth of the platform and celebrate the stories of our generation through the “COMMUNITY MADE” tote.
His personal ethos is nothing short of inspiring. But then that begs the question, what inspires Curtis Lum? It doesn’t arrive in the form of a singular person or accomplishment, but rather a mindfulness presence. In beginning to take careful observation of everything around him, he finds inspiration in everything and anything, gravitating towards those that can catalyze a mutual uplifting.
A universal Chinese Canadian experience
One of Lum’s most valuable projects was in the award-winning short film, Grandma’s 80th Surprise. Written, co-directed by and starring Lum, the film’s plot centers around Lum introducing his black girlfriend and now fiancé and the film’s other co-director Fola Evans-Akingbola to his grandmother, the family’s matriarch. The short film plays on the tension and stereotype of elder Asians being racist, drawing inspiration from Lum’s own life.
“I thought my grandmother was extremely racist. In hindsight, it was hilarious because at the end of the day, it was one big intergenerational, intercultural misunderstanding and miscommunication,” he said with a chuckle. “Something I thought was pretty unique to my life.”
But the movie resonated with global audiences. Immediately following the release, Lum received messages of love and praise from around the globe. Each message expressed a gratitude to Lum for telling a story where they finally saw themselves. It was this moment that Lum found his ultimate affirmation.
“That really opened my eyes. That I’m on the right track by bringing smiles to people around the world,” he said.
The newer generation of Asian North Americans can only benefit because of the sacrifices the generation before us made. We finally find ourselves in the conversation, capable now of telling the world our stories on our terms. Our stories may not always be romantic, and seldom be perfect, but they will always be authentic.
Whether it’s the next hot drop, or the next story on the screen, there’s one thing we know we can always expect from Curtis Lum: true love for his people.
To see more episodes of the Making It documentary, visit our YouTube. Episodes releasing weekly starting May 4, 2022.
Cold Tea Collective proudly presents Making It, While Making a Difference, celebrating Asian Canadians who are following their dreams while uplifting their communities. This production was created with the support of TELUS STORYHIVE.
Thank you to our shoot locations Diaz Combat Sports, Kevin & Kevin Juice Bar & Cocktail Lounge and Jade Dynasty Restaurant for inviting us into their space to film this episode.
If you’d like to see more Asian-led productions for, by, and about the experiences of the Asian diaspora in North America, please consider making a donation to Cold Tea Collective.
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