On Saturday, July 8, 2023, the CCYAA (Canadian Chinese Youth Athletic Association) held its third annual Celeb Classic Basketball Game, which featured over 20 celebrities, headlined by Simu Liu and Jeremy Lin. This event helps raise funds for the Jeremy Lin Foundation and the CCYAA, promoting sports, leadership, and a sense of community. Before the friendly basketball game took place, various celebrity guests spoke on why this event is important to them and the people in the Asian community at the CCYAA press conference.
While Asians make up a significant amount of the global population, they are still considered to be a minority. Throughout history, people of Asian descent have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, and violence, leading them to question embracing their identity. These celebrities are working to fight against this, pushing for a society in which the younger generation feels like they belong.
Asian youth was a major topic during the 2023 CCYAA Press Conference
Olivia Cheng and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan were the first two celebrities to speak at the CCYAA Press Conference. They were asked how their younger selves would react to being part of an event that is focused on Asian people celebrating each other.
“I’m just excited for the kids coming up because it won’t be so abnormal or such an event to see faces like ours in front of the camera or on the courts playing sports. I’m just happy that we’re part of maybe exposing kids to something that otherwise wouldn’t even think they could be in those spaces.”—Olivia Cheng on the importance of Asian representation.
For Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, she mentioned how Hollywood has evolved from when she started working on Never Have I Ever four years ago. She spoke about how grateful she is to have been given this opportunity, because so many people like her barely got this chance.
“Doing this [CCYAA event] for youth is really awesome because the arts and sports is really expensive, and it’s a privileged thing to go into. It’s not really accessible and it’s not approachable. Taking even away the stigma of ‘can we even see ourselves in it in the first place?’ With that added layer, it’s tough.”
“So I think it’s really cool that we get to do this, so we can, like [Olivia Cheng] said, see ourselves in these spaces, and future generations are just normalized.”—Maitreyi Ramakrishnan on how the creative outlet can be a safe space for Asian youth.
How does Simu Liu, Jeremy Lin, and the CCYAA’s work affect the Asian community?
Simu Liu and Jeremy Lin have been friends since Lin’s time with the Toronto Raptors back in 2019. In that same year, Liu started this celebrity basketball event with the CCYAA and the Jeremy Lin Foundation. Through this collaboration over the past few years, they have helped overlooked AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) and mixed-race youth through narrative change, solidarity, and embracing their Asian heritage.
But they don’t plan to stop there. While there is an uptick in Asian empowerment, the duo have ideas on what more they can do to cement the belief that those of Asian descent can be equals.
“Another thing that I would envision or dream about down the road is if we can keep doing this and making it bigger. Can we have businesses/NGO community leaders, a lot of powerful people, people at the top coming in and then brainstorming and thinking about what can we do together?”
“I think that’s a big part of it too. We don’t want to have a scarcity mindset. We’re not really trying to compete with anybody about anything.”—Jeremy Lin on the ideal future he hopes to see come to fruition.
For Simu Liu, there is a collective trauma that the Asian community have dealt with throughout history, especially in recent years with the COVID-19 pandemic. The narratives surrounding AAPI members have been skewed to see them as lesser than, and restricted them from being represented.
“We’re not allowed to exist on film. We’re not allowed to exist on a basketball court without being called some sort of name either which way. So I think the work that we all do, you know for me personally, I think it’s about reclaiming our narrative. That goes beyond just in athletics and whatever I do, but in what each and every one of us does within the community.”
“How are we reclaiming our narrative? How are we unapologetically standing in our light and not passing off the ball…how are we claiming the space that has rightfully been ours this whole time?”—Simu Liu says it’s time to reclaim the narrative on what it means to be Asian.
Let Asian voices be heard, not silenced
As an Asian-Canadian myself, being able to attend an event of this magnitude is something I never thought I’d experience in my life. While I grew up around Filipino kids, I never had mentors in my community or ones shown in Western media whose footsteps I could follow. But taking part in this event focusing on the Asain community, hosted by Asian people, headlined by Asian celebrities across all media platforms, is something truly special that I will never forget.
The energy during this event is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I highly recommend looking for events like this in your own hometown if you are a minority. And if there isn’t one already, see what you can do to start one. While the world may seem bleak, you are never truly alone. There are like-minded individuals that want their voices to be heard, but don’t know how to help. Take the leap of faith, and be the change you want to see in the world.
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