Women of the Year 2021: RepresentASIAN Project Founder Madelyn Chung is Helping Asians Celebrate Their Racial Identity
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
Founder and editor-in-chief, The RepresentASIAN Project
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Madelyn Chung: I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of The RepresentASIAN Project, a media platform dedicated to celebrating, advocating, and elevating Asian representation and voices in media and beyond.
What was the impetus to starting The RepresentASIAN project?
Madelyn Chung: I really just wanted a space that celebrated people who looked like me since that was something I wasn’t used to seeing growing up. I was at a time in my life where I was finally feeling proud about my racial identity and I wanted to help others feel proud to be Asian and showcase the joys of being Asian. The RepresentASIAN Project is essentially meant to be the media platform I didn’t have when I was younger that I would have loved.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Madelyn Chung: I think what’s most exciting is building a supportive community for Asians, specifically Asian Canadians, and also being able to connect and meet other really amazing people of Asian descent.
What does progress look like to you?
Madelyn Chung: To me, progress is being able to acknowledge and accept your missteps with grace and humility and to grow and evolve from there.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your community?
Madelyn Chung: With all the anti-Asian hate that has been occurring amid the pandemic, I think what the Asian community really needed was a safe, joyful, and celebratory space. I think that’s what they’re getting from The RepresentASIAN Project. It’s really important to me to highlight things that matter to Asian Canadians while also empowering them to feel proud of their cultural roots.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Madelyn Chung: Initially, I was hoping to make up for the lack of Asian representation and stories from the Asian lens in mainstream media. There have definitely been lots of changes since I started, and we are seeing more representation and visibility for Asians. But there is still so much work to be done. I’m really trying to advocate for Asian representation not only on-screen, but behind-the-scenes as well, which is equally, if not more important. I’m also trying to help break down those stereotypes the Asian community has dealt with for years.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Madelyn Chung: There have been several Asian American platforms popping up in the past few years (this year especially), but there are very few that specifically cater to Asian Canadians, and that is what makes The RepresentASIAN Project stand out. I think a lot of people tend to group Asian Americans and Asian Canadians in one group or diaspora, but I do think it’s important to differentiate the two and to highlight the Asian Canadian experience. For example, there was a lot of talk about the anti-Asian hate occurring in the United States, but very few outlets were covering what was happening in Canada. My team and I created an infographic highlighting anti-Asian racism in Canada and it went viral.
I also really try to celebrate Asian joy as much as possible. You won’t see headlines about violent attacks on our platform because there are a lot of other outlets that are doing it, and frankly, I don’t think the Asian community needs to be constantly retraumatized seeing those headlines. Of course, if something major happens to the community (ie. the Atlanta spa shootings), it is something we will cover, but I try to really focus on action items as opposed to just sensationalizing it for engagement.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your organization for the better?
Madelyn Chung: We’re still very new, and I’m still trying to navigate the business side of things, which has been tricky. My background is in journalism and content creation, so everything else that comes with running a business is very foreign to me.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve built The RepresentASIAN Project?
Madelyn Chung: I’ve learned that I’m much more capable of building a brand than I gave myself credit for. I definitely still have imposter syndrome and will always strive to do better, but I am really proud of what I have accomplished so far.
What has been the most challenging part of building The RepresentASIAN Project?
Madelyn Chung: The lack of resources. We’re just a team of two—myself and my good friend who helps me with graphic design since that is something I am not great at. It’s tough navigating marketing, branding, monetization, etc., since that’s something I’ve never done before. I also recognize that as someone who is Chinese Canadian, I have a very specific lens when it comes to creating content, and do not know the experiences of say, Korean Canadians, Indian Canadians, Pacific Islanders, etc. I am trying to be as inclusive as possible to have every member of the Asian Canadian diaspora feel included, but again, it’s tough with limited resources.
What has been the most rewarding part of building The RepresentASIAN Project?
Madelyn Chung: The impact it’s having on the Asian community—the Asian Canadian community, specifically, has been the most exciting and rewarding part. The messages I receive about how excited people are about the platform, or how much they love the content and how it makes them finally feel seen and heard, mean the world to me.
What is the mission of your brand? The bigger picture?
Madelyn Chung: The bigger picture is to really push for more Asian representation (both on and off-screen), defy Asian stereotypes, and to create a safe, inclusive space for the Asian Canadian community.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Madelyn Chung: Typically, I would describe success by accolades or validation from very important or prominent people. However, what I’ve come to realize is success is also being able to make an impact in people’s lives, which I think The RepresentASIAN Project has done.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with when engaging with your brand or from your work?
Madelyn Chung: I hope they’ll recognize that Asians are so much more than what mainstream media typically portrayed us to be.
If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Madelyn Chung: Be kinder to yourself and give yourself breaks! There’s only so much you can do, and that’s okay. It’s better to work from a full tank than from an empty one.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Madelyn Chung: I’m fortunate to be surrounded by several incredible women, so it’s hard to narrow this down. But a few who I’m particularly inspired by lately are Samanta Krishnapillai, who’s the founder of the On Canada Project; Stacey Lee Kong, the mastermind behind Friday Things; and Ishani Nath who is currently the managing editor of Best Health Magazine.
Sam’s really taught me the importance of accountability and the humility that comes with that. She’s also helped me realize that being messy and not perfect is okay, especially in an online space.
I think Stacey is just brilliant—her analysis of pop culture is so smart and engaging and shows that pop culture and entertainment is more than just “fluff.”
And Ishani is doing such wonderful things with Best Health, making it more diverse and inclusive, especially in a space that’s usually very white-centric.