Ann Y.K. Choi
Country of Origin:
Citizenship, Immigration, Asian Heritage, Racism/Discrimination, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity, Adjusting to Life in Canada
Ann speaks about the importance of feeling connected to her Korean heritage.
Ann Y.K. Choi immigrated to Canada from South Korea in 1975. She attended the University of Toronto where she studied English, Sociology, and Education. She is also a graduate of the Humber School for Writers, the Creative Writing Certificate Program at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, and National University’s Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing. Published by Simon & Schuster Canada, her debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was a 2016 Toronto Book Awards finalist and one of CBC Books’ “12 Best Canadian Debut Novels of 2016”.
For over 15 years, Ann has been a teacher with the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) working primarily with English language learners, students in Special Education, and students with academic and social-emotional needs. She has served on many committees and groups that address equity issues and student well-being.
As the current chair of the YRDSB Network of Educators for Korean-Canadian Students, Ann is committed to providing support for educators who work with students and parents/guardians of Korean-Canadian heritage, as well as to promote opportunities for community building. Ann also serves as a mentor for Arts & Science students at the University of Toronto interested in connecting with alumni established in the Arts industry. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.
Connect with Ann via her website, annykchoi.com or on Twitter @annykchoi
I still remember how annoyed my teacher got when she called me by my new Canadian name and I didn’t answer. I was seven years old and had just arrived in Toronto from Chung-Ju, South Korea. As per school board policy in the mid-1970s, my brothers and I had to take Canadian-friendly names. The foreign sounds of my new name left me feeling lost and confused. I didn’t know a single word of English. As a child, I had no idea what it meant to lose my name and the implications that that would have on my sense of self for years to come.
After working in factories and at miscellaneous jobs for years, my parents started working in a variety store – an ideal business venture for people with limited English skills and those willing to work long hours. Few people know how demanding life can be for shopkeepers. We lost count of the number of times we were robbed or harassed. Because the store was open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., we rarely ate meals together – someone had to tend to the store. We worked hard because when you sell milk at cost just to bring customers in and make three cents for every newspaper sold AND you have a family of five to feed, you have no choice.
My novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, is a work of fiction but it is largely based on the collective experiences of Korean-Canadian families I knew growing up. I wrote the book because I realized that unless someone captured the early Korean-Canadian experience, our stories would be lost to future generations. Because so many of us worked in variety stores that were scattered throughout towns and cities during the 70s, 80s, and 90s, we were placed in the unique position to see and be part of different Canadian communities. I loved working in our store on Queen Street West because I got to meet and develop relationships with customers who included immigrant families, pensioners, starving artists, prostitutes and the homeless.
In March 2017, my family will celebrate 42 years in Canada. I’m grateful that my parents chose to make Toronto our home. My parents have since retired. One of my brothers is a therapist; the other is a high school teacher. I’ve been truly fortunate in that I have been able to pursue my interests both personally and professionally. As a high school educator, I feel privileged to work with students who not only inspire me but challenge me to consistently improve my professional practice. It was one of my students who “pushed” me to finally write my first novel! I’m currently working on my second novel and pursuing other writing projects. I’ve been happily married for 18 years and have an awesome 17-year old daughter, Claire, who is half-Irish and half-Korean but identifies herself as 100% Canadian.