Skip to content

Ms. Chatelaine

Cultural preservationist Claudia Li: This B.C.-based organizer is helping preserve Chinese tradition through grandmother-led cooking lessons and raucous mah-jong night.

Photo: Grant Harder
Photo: Grant Harder

Growing up in Vancouver, Claudia Li was drawn to the dim sum her family ate. Other kids, less enamoured of tripe and chicken feet, pounced on her love of “weird” foods. “I told my grandmother I was being picked on, and she got very serious,” says Li. “She said when we sacrifice an animal for food, we use every part of it. She planted the idea that we shouldn’t waste anything.” The idea stuck. Now 29, Li is the co-founder of two organizations working to preserve Chinese culture — its foods, traditions and pastimes — while advocating for sustainability. …

Last year, Li helped set up the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, which offers historical walks and a recurring “Hot and Noisy Chinatown Mahjong Social,” all in the hopes of preserving the rapidly gentrifying area in the face of massive condominium development. She’s now “poking the coals” of a new idea involving oral history. “Every time I start a campaign, it’s because I’m trying to stop a part of my culture or family from slipping away,” she says.

“We live the stories we tell about ourselves. They’re the threads that connect us to each other.”