Shally Wong: A Champion Multicultural Advocate and Community Leader in The Greater Orlando Area
Updated: Nov 9
If there’s a way to boost the Asian community Shally Wong hasn’t thought of, it isn’t for lack of trying. Over the course of three decades, she’s become one of Greater Orlando’s most celebrated cultural advocates by using avenues from government to journalism to food to athletics as a means to advance the cause of AAPI peoples.
In her current high-profile position as Special Assistant – Community Liaison for Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, she maintains a constant outreach to individuals and businesses that wouldn’t otherwise be aware of the opportunities Central Florida is willing to extend to them. Her duties include everything from educating renters about available assistance programs to increasing the representation of Asians in local government – and elsewhere.
“As a whole, Asian-Americans are only around 7 percent of Orange County,” she says. “Seven percent is really not huge. And I found out we were really being ignored. We had, like, no real resources for ourselves. So that’s why having a person there to connect with, to me, is very important.”
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ms. Wong elected to leave in the 1980s, when the handoff to China was looming. Her goal was to join her sister here in Florida, but bureaucratic red tape meant she had to spend four years in Vancouver first, studying Business Administration at the university level. She was ultimately able to transfer to UCF, where she graduated with a degree in management information systems.
Other than an intentionally temporary return to Hong Kong to get some hands-on work experience in her home city (this time with paperwork that ensured she could come back to Florida whenever she wanted), her story since then has been one of accomplishment for our area’s AAPI citizens.
Both on her own and in partnership with her husband, Gary C.K. Lau, she’s founded Asia Trend magazine and the annual Dragon Parade, and even owned a Chinese restaurant in Winter Park. In the process, she cultivated personal friendships and forged relationships with numerous associations that eventually brought her to the attention of Mayor Demings, who appointed her to her current position in 2019.
As part of that job, she inaugurated the county’s first-ever Diwali Festival, and she remains an active participant in FusionFest – events she enjoys because they prove language doesn’t have to be a barrier to understanding.
“We don’t need to translate anything [from] Chinese or Vietnamese. I think you just put the people there. And you put them on the steering committee. That, people can see.”
Mixing representation with recreation, she can often be found handling an oar in the CHARGE Dragon Boat Club, which she founded 13 years ago (with a team from the Chinese-American Association of Central Florida) to indulge a yen for paddling that didn’t hit her until she turned 40. She also took up Japanese Taiko drumming during the early days of the pandemic, and has joined Vietnamese dance troupe Thuyen May Productions.
Public accolades for Ms. Wong’s work have been numerous and prestigious. Among others, she’s received the Rising Phoenix – Key Contributor in the Community Award from the Asian-American Chamber of Commerce and has been named one of the 2023 Women of the Year by Orlando Magazine. But she’s clear that her legacy won’t be the name she makes for herself, but the road she helps pave for others:
“No matter how I do, I cannot be here forever, right? But if you can cultivate more representation throughout the county – and I’m not talking at [just] a leadership level, but across the board – that can help serve our diverse community.”
This story is proudly brought to you in partnership with FusionFest. Together, FusionFest and Pedacitos believe in the power of storytelling as a way to celebrate and amplify the diverse voices within our communities. FusionFest is also the name of the incredible two-day multicultural event held in the heart of Downtown Orlando every Thanksgiving weekend.
This FREE event showcases some of the many ways culture can be displayed and shared, including through music, art, food, fashion, and more! Their mission extends beyond this once-a-year event with opportunities for the community to engage and learn through curated cultural events throughout the year.
FusionFest Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission to celebrate the people and the many different cultures that make Central Florida awesome by showcasing talents, sharing stories, driving innovation and building community based on respect and understanding. FusionFest is a project of the Orange County Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.