Each May, the US celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Canada celebrates Asian Heritage Month. This year, Ubisoft is celebrating with activities that promote and inspire Asian and Pacific Islander (API) representation, spearheaded by Ubisoft’s API employee resource group (ERG).
Since its formation in March 2021, Ubisoft’s API ERG has expanded to include four local chapters in San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, and France. Ubisoft News spoke with Claudia Nguyen, co-lead of the Montreal All Asian Advocate, and Emily Claire Afan and Stephen Ma, co-leads of Toronto API ERG, to learn what inspired them to start their own local ERG chapters, and what API representation means to them.
What is your role at Ubisoft, and what inspired you to start your own local ERG chapter and become a lead?
Claudia Nguyen: I am a production manager on the Assassin’s Creed team at the Montreal studio. A year ago, I saw an inspiring internal article about the Lunar New Year celebration throughout all our studios around the world. And then I noticed that Montreal didn’t have a local ERG to represent our API community, so I volunteered to help start our own local chapter.
Stephen Ma: My current role is cinematic production manager on the Toronto Cinematics Junction team, and prior to this I was a production manager on the game side for many years. The difference is almost night and day, but the work boils down to ensuring our project mandates are delivered at the highest quality while having fun. Becoming an ERG co-lead is something I give credit to Emily Claire Afan. Her initiative of starting a conversation with existing local Toronto API members one day was a bit of a surprise; nonetheless it led to someone saying, “Why don’t we create a local chapter?”
Emily Claire Afan: My title is strategic partnerships and programs Lead on the Toronto communications team, which is an extremely long title to pair with my already-long name. I oversee our studio’s external relationships with industry partners across education and indie developer initiatives, as well as our studio’s speakers bureau, ambassador program, and relevant sponsorships.
Becoming an ERG co-lead was a bit of a happy accident, as Stephen mentioned! I wanted to join a local chapter, but realized we didn’t have one. A bunch of Toronto employees were already part of the global ERG, so after initiating the aforementioned group chat, it didn’t take long for Stephen to get the ball rolling to make us an official chapter.
Stephen Ma, Emily Claire Afan, Claudia Nguyen
Leading an ERG chapter requires taking on extra work. Why do you believe in this cause, and why is ERG work important to you personally?
CN: I believe that our community, or any community, needs a safe space and a platform to express ourselves. I also want to take this opportunity to celebrate our heritage and achievements, uplift our community at work, and spread the richness of our culture around.
ECA: I wanted to help create the environment I wish I’d had early in my career, when I had no Asian role models or mentors, and very few Asian colleagues. I want to contribute to fostering a safe space for others like me, for our members to form meaningful connections through our shared cultures, and work together to increase representation at the leadership level.
I have never worked with so many API-identifying professionals in my 16-year career as I have at Ubisoft, and I didn’t fully recognize that until I joined the API ERG. Our cultures are part of our identities, and helping others understand and celebrate what makes us who we are creates stronger bonds with each other and with our teams. If what we do with the Toronto chapter helps with that in some way, I consider that a big, important win.
SM: I personally wish I had something like this earlier on in my career because what this type of environment creates is not only a sense of belonging with your colleagues, but also a safe space to share commonalities with others. I feel this is especially important now, when many of us work from home often, and the accidental meet-up at the "watering hole” is not as common – but with an ERG chapter, a different kind of connection can be made. With new people joining the studio from all backgrounds and even some out of province, having another community where they can feel comfortable is just fantastic overall.
When did you start your local chapter? What activity or programming have you provided for your members that you’re most proud of, and why?
CN: The Montreal All Asian Advocate is celebrating our one-year anniversary this month! I am very proud to have brought a great group together since it was created. We have been able to go out for dinner and activities outside work a couple of times to get to know each other and create good bonds. We also have virtual hangouts to accommodate the hybrid lifestyle. Plus, I feel that my welcome program has helped me get to know each one of our members and allies better. And I’m happy to bring our community closer to our other chapters and our global one, and share their initiatives with ours.
ECA: We started our Toronto chapter in August 2022, and in less than a year, our membership has more than tripled! We introduced ourselves and our goals as a chapter with an internal company-wide post that coincided with the start of the Mid-Autumn Festival. With the help of our members, we also shared the history of the festival and its importance.
Since then, we’ve been able to help educate our studio on other important annual cultural observances, including the significance of Diwali, planning a Lunar New Year event for our entire studio, as well as individual stories on how and why we celebrate.
We feel like we’ve fostered a growing sense of camaraderie, especially when it comes to food – a joyful, social, and comforting topic. We try to organize semi-regular dinner outings at a range of Asian restaurants across Toronto, always a popular activity.
Overall, we’re most proud of the engagement and new friendships that have formed between our members. As Stephen mentioned earlier, it's a lot more challenging to meet new folks and make new friends in a hybrid working environment, and we’ve been so heartened to see the new bonds that have naturally formed because this chapter exists!
Members of Toronto API ERG attending a dinner outing
This year, the theme for API Heritage Month is API Representation Matters. Why is API Representation important to you?
CN: When you are young, you want to be able to look up to someone and feel related to. Being a minority, it is important to have that representation to help with your identity development and build self-esteem. When you can see someone else doing it, that helps validate that you can be whoever you want to be. That’s what it felt like to me, looking out for role models. When you are older, you are prouder of your community and want to celebrate it. Plus, more representation will help reduce stereotyping.
ECA: I was born and raised in Canada, and my brother and I were the only kids in our extended family who didn’t speak or understand our parents’ language. I never felt “Asian-enough” to be “allowed” to truly appreciate my culture the way my other first-gen friends and relatives did with their respective cultures. It’s one of the reasons I was hesitant at first to co-lead our chapter.
But I realized taking on that shared responsibility meant I could help make sure no one ever felt the way I did. I love encouraging our members to use their voices and be proud of who they are and carry that pride through their professional lives.
SM: I grew up surrounded by only my immediate family, and that meant my view of representation was influenced by those I saw at school and outside surroundings, who were predominately non-Asian. At home, my family celebrated many Asian cultural key milestones, but growing up, I never felt that positive reinforcement of API media representation.
With the world we live in now and the greater contribution of Asian representation everywhere, I feel that my kids, and others too, will have more Asian influences than I had back in the day. Our children are our future, and so I’m grateful for the sacrifices and accomplishments of so many that led to where we are today.
When was the first time you felt or saw API representation?
CN: The first time I felt like I had a proper representation outside of my family was when my parents showed me American movies starring Jackie Chan, and people around me knew who he was. Knowing that he made it internationally, and that he inspired good representation, made me want to look up to him and be a hard worker like him.
SM: I recall watching The Goonies, and seeing an Asian kid who was about my age starring in a now-cult-classic movie really stood out for me. Ke Huy Quan played a character that was accepted as someone who was an integral and important part of a loving family of friends. They saw each other not by skin color, but who they were, and that was something I yearned for myself growing up.
ECA: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it was Tia Carrere in Wayne’s World. Seeing Carrere at a young age, in retrospect, was an unexpected eye-opening moment. I had never seen someone with a nearly identical cultural background and skin color as me on screen until Cassandra Wong appeared.
What is an example of good API representation?
CN: Good representation is not based on stereotypes. I feel that in 2023, API are more and more celebrated and authentically represented in western culture. People are starting now to get more interested in and have more knowledge of our food, our music, our content creators, our movies, and much more**.**
SM: When there was talk about a movie called Crazy Rich Asians, I was already putting that on my list of things to watch. To me, having an all-Asian cast featured in a western film was a momentous shift in a positive direction. This is a clear example of how there is a change in media where there is now more of a space for telling Asian stories and showcasing more Asian actors in Hollywood movies, rather than just adapted versions like The Departed, a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Beyond that, we continue to see representation in the various Asian arts, media, and pop culture into 2023 and that is a positive sign.
ECA: Channel-surfing one night, I came across a scene of a giant Filipino family seated around a dining table. I was flipping channels so fast that I thought I imagined it. But I went back, and there they were – familiar accented English, people sounding and looking exactly like my own big family gatherings – what was this show? It was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and it quickly became one of my favorite shows. Up until that moment, I had never seen an authentic, intentional portrayal of Filipino families in a North American setting.
What activity is your local chapter of the API ERG taking part in to support this year’s theme of API Representation Matters?
CN: The Montreal chapter published an internal blog post about creating the API characters Azami and Grim in Rainbow 6 Siege. And by participating in this interview, I hope I can inspire someone as much as I am inspired by all our API ERG leaders.
ECA: Our studio communications team has been highlighting our API members through a regular external feature called People of Ubisoft Toronto, you can check them out here!
We published an interview with Sally Luc and Parth Soni, the founders of Thousand Stars Studio, one of this year’s Ontario winners of the Ubisoft Indie Series presented by National Bank. They create story-driven imaginative games with a multi-cultural approach.
Last, but not least, our members have compiled a list of media recommendations from API creators across books, music, movies, and of course, games. We hope you will take a look, maybe find some existing favorites, and maybe ever discover a few new ones!
What do you enjoy most about being part of the API ERG?
CN: It’s an honor to represent the API ERG and to be able to help the community as much as I can. I enjoyed all the global ERG initiatives that have been offered to all of us. If I must highlight one, it would be the internal API Mental Health panel. This topic is still taboo nowadays in our community. We are mostly raised to be educated, to show no weaknesses, and to hide our struggles. The most accurate example that I have is that my parents don’t believe in this issue. Knowing that we should talk about it openly and it is something that is more common than we thought, I want to be able to help break this taboo.
SM: The most enjoyable part about being part of the API ERG is seeing connections being made amongst our members through food, music, movies, personal stories, and learning from each other’s cultures. There is a real sense of community and respect for one another, and I see this in every meeting or get together we have with members advocating for themselves and encouraging each other.
ECA: Everyone jokes about the games industry being such a small world, but the Ubisoft API ERG is double proof of this. I’ve witnessed moments of our members suddenly discovering they’ve crossed paths years before any of them worked at Ubisoft – and because they all work on different teams, they never would have come to this realization if they hadn’t connected through the ERG. It’s the best.
One of the coolest moments for me was finding out Holly Hua (our Global ERG founder) and Timo Wang (France ERG lead) speak the same rare Chinese dialect as my grandparents! They casually mentioned the coincidence during a meeting because they had just recently made the discovery between them, and I squealed. I’d never met anyone in my entire life who spoke Hokkien and wasn’t family. Then suddenly, here at Ubisoft, because of this ERG, I found one person in San Francisco and another in Annecy in the same breath!
What would you like your local chapter and/or the Global API ERG to accomplish in the future?
CN: There’s still so much more we can do in the future for our community! I want to be able to have an impact in our career development, our hiring process, our videogame characters; to be involved in and collaborating with outside initiatives, foundations, and conventions from our community in the city. I want to develop our chapter not only in the Montreal studio, but in other studios all around Quebec too.
ECA: I would love to see more South Asian representation in our ERG, both at the local and global level. Learning from them is such a joy – I didn’t even know about Holi until this year, and it was so unbelievably cool to see how many in the Toronto chapter celebrated and shared amazing photos and stories of past Holi celebrations. I hope we can continue to foster an environment where they feel comfortable sharing more about themselves and their beautiful traditions.
SM: I would love to see more cross collaborations and sharing across studios which can be a challenge with time zones. The idea would be to create opportunities for individuals across continents to connect. Everyone has a story, and I think it would be fantastic if those who would be personally comfortable to share a little about themselves. Through stories we can learn and be taught something new that we would not have known otherwise.
For more about Ubisoft’s ERGs and cultural observances, read our interview with Editorial VP Fawzi Mesmar in celebration of Arab Heritage Month, and visit our Inside Ubisoft news hub.