Ashley Anjlien Kumar

Top 40 Under 40 2014

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 32

Job Title: Founding Artistic Director of the South Asian Arts Movement Society, Owner of AKtion Fitness Ltd.

Why She’s Top 40: She dedicates her time – both professionally and personally – to promoting the arts and teaching others in her community to value their culture.

Guilty Pleasure:“Anything on Netflix. I watch it to kind of escape daily stresses. When I was getting married, I watched six seasons of The Nanny, and I still watch all those horrible ’90s shows – like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

At the age of two and a half, Ashley Anjlien Kumar made a long trek from her birthplace, Sigatoka in the Fiji Islands, to Edmonton. She doesn’t remember the journey; until the age of 10, as far as she knew, she’d always called Edmonton home.

But when she was 10, her reality unravelled. She learned that the couple whom she called her parents were actually her aunt and uncle. And worse yet, she was told that her mother had taken her own life when Kumar was just eight months old.

“When I was 12, I travelled to Fiji and actually got to go to the house. My aunt described to me where they found [mom] and where I was at that moment. I stood under the beam where I was left in a homemade cradle made of a rice sack hammered into a wooden frame,” says Kumar.

But Kumar never let the news get her down. Her adopted family gave her close ties to her culture. “My family were a generation removed from India, and gravitated to all things Indian. When you are removed from your homeland, you want to connect to your homeland.”

It was the household interest in Bollywood and Hindi music that led her to take up dancing as a child. Now she shares her connection with her ancestral home through the South Asian Arts Movement Society (SAAM), her non-profit organization that teaches and promotes the various forms of Indian dance and artistic forms through lessons and performances.

And despite her affection for Bollywood, (she once even travelled to India to work in the industry) one of her goals is to show others like her and the public at large that there is more to Indian culture than the cinematic representation.

Of course the most important part of her work is to ensure that her students are not ashamed of who they are. “We live in Canada and are apart from our culture, so I think that there is some pressure to conform – to fit in. We need to educate people to celebrate those differences, and that’s the kind of role model I want to be.”

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