Meet Alice Lam, an AAPI Community #GameChanger
May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. This month and beyond, we’re celebrating the valuable contributions and achievements of Asian people to Canada’s social, political, cultural, economic, and scientific landscape.
For this month’s #GameChanger, we are thrilled to shine a light on a Canadian changemaker who pushes boundaries and makes a difference within her Asian Canadian community and beyond.
Meet Alice Lam. Alice was born in Calgary to Chinese parents who were refugees from Vietnam. She has been an active volunteer helping immigrant youth and seniors reach their full potential for over fifteen years. She sits on several non-profit boards in Calgary that have a mandate to empower and enrich the lives of immigrant seniors. She also volunteers as an interpreter and facility coordinator for Chinese seniors. Most recently, she founded a volunteer website that helps connect Calgarians to volunteer opportunities called www.vollyapp.com which is built by volunteers, and free to use. She is also the founder of Tigerstedt Flea, a shop for small-scale market vendors, sustained through community support and pop-up retail opportunities, with the goal of working on the local economy to build strong communities.
She graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and completed a Master of Science degree in Management at the IESEG School of Management in France. She has worked in New York as a communications and marketing specialist and comes with her a strong background of strategic planning and operations consulting. She currently works in commercial real estate.
Interview with Alice Lam on being a #GameChanger:
Q1: Can you tell us about the creation of Tigerstedt Flea Volly and your community-building work?
Alice: In 2019 I started planning outdoor markets in a way to revitalize the Tigerstedt Block. For my day job I am a property manager and I fell in love with Tigerstedt and its charm when I met the tenants who were opening businesses in this once neglected building. I decided to start hosting a flea market so that we could attract more of the residents to come to the building and get to know the new businesses popping up. Due to the age of the building, many of the leases were 1 year in nature and most of the businesses were just “popping” up. There was no idea that they would all thrive the way they have due you our community initiatives.
In 2019 we were able to utilize an empty space on the block to create our retail shop, the Tigerstedt Flea. It is a co-op meaning everyone rents a section of the store and contributes to the rent. Any extra revenue above cost goes towards maintenance and marketing. This shop proved to be an idea format for small-scale market vendors to give their hand at a retail storefront. I am the founder of vollyapp.com a volunteer listing website, and with the start of the shop I started hosting more fund-raising and volunteering events at the block including mural painting, arts and crafts, flower fundraisers, and adopt-a-family. I realized how many of our customers loved that aspect of our shop. They liked being included. We are now known as the shop that volunteers! In 2020 at the height of the pandemic we had our customers sew facemasks for frontline workers, then later in the year we started at flowers for seniors fundraiser. The idea was to help seniors who have been isolated get a bit of cheer. We are fundraising money to donate 1000 bouquets. https://gofund.me/b38ce177
We have dropped off 700/1000 bouquets that are fundraised and put together by volunteers to different senior homes in Calgary. We also in 2021 started a seniors walking group in Chinatown. The idea was to ensure seniors felt safe to leave their homes and go for walks in the height of all the anti-asianracism occurring around North America. For many of the seniors they had not left their house for a year. Every week on Wednesdays and Fridays we chaperone seniors on a walk along the Bow River/Sien Lok Park area. If you’d like to join us: volunteersignup.org/W7AME
Q2: What is your motivation behind community-building work? Why is it important now more than ever?
Alice: I love Calgary and in order to help transform this city into the fun, inclusive, creative, and thriving place I know it can be, we cannot rely on policy alone. It requires citizen-led action and community-oriented events and initiatives. We have to take care of each other. We have to do our part to make our city feel safe for everyone. If we all do our part, and get out and know our neighbours a bit more, our city can be a much more welcoming place.
Q3: You post about Calgary Chinatown and anti-Asian racism on your socials. Why is it important to educate others on Asian history and speak on issues like anti-Asian racism on our platforms?
Alice: Growing up I experienced a lot of racism and microaggressions at schools, and also saw it happen to my parents. Their handle of the English language wasn’t as great so they couldn’t respond. It was so infuriating to see these older Caucasian individuals treat people of colour like my parents with so little respect. Growing up I was taught to just keep my head down, don’t speak up, don’t draw attention to yourself or you’ll bring trouble. The cliche is to be the model minority. Thinking that they won’t bother you, racists won’t attack you, if you just keep your head down, get a good job, and work hard. Unfortunately this isn’t true.
The model minority myth is something that generations of parents have used to give themselves a sense of peace. Well in the past year we have seen that they don’t care where you work, or what your passion is, or that you were born in Canada. Racist attacks are becoming prevalent. They aren’t going to look at your CV first to decide if they are going to attack you or not. It was in 2016 that I learned about the Chinatown community rallying together to combat a land use change that would drastically alter the context of the neighbourhood. I learned about how the city at the time really was not listening to the community despite their claims. Having grown up in the neighbourhood, I got mad and so I got involved. We wrote papers, we talked to media, we lobbied. Through this community work I was able to meet so many of the residents of chinatown who shared their stories. We decided that these stories need to be heard and told, so we started the Chinatown History Tours with I Love YYC Chinatown. Every year we host walking tours by donation to teach Calgarians about the rich history of this neighbourhood. We hope that by educating as many people as possible, the next time there is a threat to the neighbourhood, more people will show their allyship and stand amongst us. It’s really about educating people with a voice and with a platform so that our pleas can be heard. In an ideal situation, people wouldn’t discount or doubt the feelings and facts from an ethnic group, however, there is still a lot of unlearning, and checking of biases and stereotypes for that to occur.
Q4: How has your upbringing influenced your work in any capacity
My parents were not particularly involved in politics or civic engagement due to their limited English skills and their work schedules. We ran a family business for many years where working 12-14 hour days were normal. You just work to survive. Their only desire was for me to go to college as the first person in the family to do so. Through the application experience I decided to volunteer to add some extracurricular activities to my resume. It was through this experience that I got to see how important volunteering is for the communities we live in. My first gig was teaching English to children of immigrant families. I was doing something I wish someone had done for me when I was a kid. It made such a big difference for the families dropping of their children, and the kids had fun too. I was touched by the experience and was hooked on volunteering. I kept volunteering in a grassroots level with immigrant families until finally one day I joined a board. This is how I was able to learn about strategic planning and governance of nonprofit organizations to ensure their sustainability. Fast forward 7 years I now sit on 4 boards, volunteer regularly, and have created my own volunteer website with the help of generous Calgarians committed to the vision of making volunteering easy for everyone.
My parents were hesitant about how much time I spent volunteering instead of looking for jobs but they soon realized that it wasn’t something they could convince me to stop doing. It worked out because of my volunteer experience I have been able to find great employment opportunities. Volunteering has provided me with soft and hard skills that complimented my schooling to place me as a competitive candidate for job postings. I never would have learned the leadership or entrepreneurial skills I have if it wasn’t for volunteering. This is why I am so passionate about helping people get out into their communities because as much as it is about helping others, you personally gain so much.
I now work in the world of real estate, planning and building buildings in communities to help them grow and thrive.
Thank you Alice Lam. #GameChanger