Senator Vivienne Poy accepts NAAAP 100 award in NYC

Senator Vivienne Poy accepts NAAAP 100 award in NYC

Politician, fashion designer, philanthropist, author, entrepreneur and historian — these are all full-time careers in themselves, yet Senator Vivienne Poy balances all with style and grace. Before Poy was appointed the first Asian Canadian in the Senate of Canada, she founded “Vivienne Poy Mode” in 1981, and is currently Chairwoman of Lee Tak Wai Holdings Limited. She has degrees in history and fashion in addition to authoring five books to date. She also served as Chancellor of the University of Toronto from 2003 to 2006. She says, “It’s always been my desire to learn. I love challenges. Every so many years, I start something quite new or totally new, and try to achieve my best at it.”

Of her appointment to the Senate in 1998, she says: “It was a huge challenge and responsibility because when I was first appointed, I did not have a political background so that was a surprise when it happened. I thought it was about time…Asians have been in Canada since 1788.” She adds, “I feel Asian Canadians, are a shadow to the mainstream. We are there, but we are often not recognized.”

Poy brought this and other Asian Canadian concerns to the Canadian Senate. For instance, she proposed the motion to make the month of May “Asian Heritage Month”. In 2001, this motion was passed by the Senate of Canada. Poy considers this her biggest achievement as Senator. “Because there was federal recognition, different levels of government also recognized it, and all of a sudden, Asian Canadians were proud of being Asian,” she says, “and they had a voice”. To make the motion enduring, Poy ensured that there was an official declaration for Asian Heritage Month to be celebrated annually, and she has since traveled around the country to raise public awareness on the issue. Canadians now happily celebrate Asian Heritage Month every May.

One of Poy’s current priorities is education. When she refers to ‘education’, she is not just referring to Asian Canadian education in the typical sense, which is of course important. She is also referring to educating the general public about Asian Canadians’ socio-political and economic contributions to Canada.

Why should mainstream Canada care about Asian Canadians?  After all, they are still a small minority group at about 10% of the population. To this critical question, Poy points out that Asia and its economies are critical to the future prosperity of Canada. “Canada cannot just depend on U.S. trade,” she says, “Asian Canadians can build bridges for Canadian companies to [enter] the Asian markets.” Accordingly, Asian Canadians should not downplay their contributions to the Canadian economy. They are in a unique position to help Canada prosper and tap into the growing Asian markets. Poy asserts, “Asia is critical to Canada.”

In turn, Poy emphasizes that Asian Canadians need to be loyal to Canada and have pride in their heritage.” Contrary to what popular media would have us believe, these two things are not incompatible.

Apart from her professional accomplishments, Poy also speaks glowingly of her personal achievements. She is the proud parent of three sons, and grandparent to three grandchildren. Poy and her husband recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. More significantly, whereas the passage of the motion to recognize Asian Heritage Month may have been the high point of her professional career, she considers the most important event of her personal life to be the donation of her kidney to her son. She says, “I have done a lot in my life but that was the most important. He is happy and in good health. There is nothing more a mother would want.”

Poy is a dedicated community activist, particularly in the areas of education and health. She is the honorary patron of many Asian heritage societies and Chinese Canadian professional associations across Canada, and serves as a board member of ORBIS Canada, and honorary co-chair of the Campaign For all Canadians, Canadian Blood Services.

Although Poy has chosen to retire from the Senate this coming September, she will continue learning and writing. Her book entitled, “Passage to Promise Land”, published by McGill / Queen’s University Press, is due to be released later this year. Knowing Poy’s energy, it will not be long before the next book is on its way. We celebrate Poy’s successes and look forward to supporting her next initiative.

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About Diana Tao

Diana Tao
Diana is an ALIST founder and staff writer. She resides in NYC and double-majors in both Journalism and Politics at NYU. She is President of the Asian American Theatre Alliance at NYU, Co-producer of "Globetrot" on WNYU and a musician with the NYU Steinhardt Choir. She is currently working on a project with NBC News for Decision 2012.