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Grace Yan: Profile of first Filipina mayoral candidate in Alberta with possible MLA run in future

by Angel Castillo

Grace Yan

Photo credit: Angel Castillo

Grace Yan is a Calgarian who made history as the first Filipina mayoral candidate in the province, despite having had no past political experience or political-related education. She did not win the mayoral race, but as a Filipina myself, I found her story intriguing, particularly since I am studying a related field - public relations. While Yan is now a top commercial broker, successful entrepreneur, and a senior paralegal working as the director of sales and marketing at Coldwell Banker MC Commercial, she shouldn’t be counted out for future political bids.

Yan recounted that her family immigrated when she was only five years old. She vividly remembers experiencing snow for the first time and “the culture shock” of a new school, food, language and country. Already successful professionals in the Philippines, her parents’ degrees, sadly, were not recognized, and so they experienced what so many immigrants with professional backgrounds experience – Canada’s unyielding policies toward a lack of recognition for foreign credentials. Yan said that had she become mayor, she would have worked on programs that allowed for the degrees of immigrants to be more fairly handled and more appropriately acknowledged. She argued, “Their education must be worth something and it must be evaluated accordingly.”

Yan shared what it was like as a child trying to participate in her new society. “I was really shy,” Yan laughed. “When I was a kid, I always cried. And then after a while, it just went away and I toughened up. I was very sensitive as a young person.” It seems fortunate that Yan made the transition from tender reed to brawny oak, or it is unlikely she could have braved the rigours of political campaigning! Fortunately, Yan said she never experienced bullying, even describing her time at Bishop Grandin High School (now Our Lady of the Rockies High School) as “non-eventful.” I chuckled, telling her that related to this sentiment, as I had expected a High School Musical-like experience when I entered senior high. Yan smiled, knowingly.

After her secondary school experience, Yan attended Mount Royal University for computer science and also took piano lessons at the Mount Royal Conservatory. About university life, she commented that she enjoyed her post-secondary experience but noted the propensity for incessant memorization as a way to learn and be tested. “For me, to be tested on how well you memorize things on that day, that hour, is not a true reflection of how smart you are.”

Gradually, Yan’s interests shifted from computer science to becoming a paralegal after her family moved to Edmonton. “I was going to NAIT for computer science, and then in the summers I would work in law firms. I found that I actually really liked it. The summers ended up going longer and longer and I worked my way up.”

She became a certified paralegal and moved back to Calgary to work in a large law firm. She then would go on to become director for the Alberta Association of Professional Paralegals.

With respect to her mayoral run, I expressed to her how proud I was of her -- not just as Filipina, but recognizing that all communities of colour were likely very proud of her for her courage to step up.

“I am so glad I did it,” Yan exclaimed. “It was an experience. And you do see the dark side.” She elaborated on how her campaign signs were getting vandalized, defaced and stolen, and how these incidents even made international news. She spoke of her team. “It was such a great experience because I had so many people come together and volunteer. I’m very proud of my campaign team and how we ran it.” She continued, “And meeting so many people! It was hectic! But you learn a lot; you learn a lot about strong you actually have to be and [to] have a thick skin. You’ve got to expect everything that’ll happen and the media is always on you.”

She also expressed an appreciation for the upcoming generations. She said her key motivation toward these groups is to “inspire them to not be afraid and to stand up for what they believe in.”

While campaigning, Yan ran on a platform of supporting businesses, lowering taxes, getting Calgarians back to work and supporting mental health. She holds those values today.

What’s next for Grace Yan? She said she will continue promoting her platform, advocating for Calgarians, and helping the business sector grow and thrive. A future political run is still possible, Yan indicated. She has her sights on a position as MLA. So, remember her name, as this may not be the last we hear of Grace Yan.


Angel Castillo is a second-year public relations student at Mount Royal University and is of Philippine heritage. She speaks English, French and Tagalog.

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